Helpful lessons from Disney on employee engagement

Review of: Disney U
Product by:
Doug Lipp

Reviewed by:
On 15 March, 2013
Last modified:17 August, 2013


There is much that other types of businesses can learn from reading this book about how Disney has faced a number of different HR challenges over the years.

Disneyland’s employee orientation program grew to become Disney University, an institution that “forever changed the professions of employee training and development”, according to Doug Lipp in his book Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal and Customer-Centric Employees. The author was for a number of years the head of the training team at Disney University, and the book is largely a tribute to Van France, the founder of Disney University.

The book provides 13 “lessons” in training and managing employees derived partly from the Disney culture and partly from experience gained in facing and overcoming various problems over the years. Central to these lessons are Van France’s “Four Circumstances”, which are a type of core values relating to the employee training experience: Innovation, Organizational Support, Education and Entertainment.

I personally found the most interesting lessons to be those learnt through encountering and overcoming significant problems:

  • When the Disney Store was first opened, the shopping experience failed to meet expectations, and a new Disney Shopping Experience had to be created.
  • Two years after the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida, employee turnover rate reached 83 percent, and urgent action had to be taken to improve employee morale.
  • Recession in the early 1980s required creative approaches to differentiating by doing more with less.
  • Communication silos caused lost marketing opportunities, and the Disney Dimensions executive training program was developed to address this.
  • Cross-cultural issues had to be dealt with when new parks were opened in Japan and France

Most workplaces are quite unlike Disneyland, and many of the things that they do at Disney will not be transferrable to other work environments. On the other hand, many of the HR challenges faced by Disney are the same as those faced by any employer, such as improving employee engagement, enhancing the customer/client experience, maintaining workforce morale, dealing with market downturns, and breaking down communication barriers. In my opinion there is much to be gained from reading this book.

There is much that other types of businesses can learn from reading this book about how Disney has faced a number of different HR challenges over the years.


  1. Doug Lipp says:

    Thank you for your review of Disney U! Writing Disney U was a true joy, as I got to reconnect with so many Disney legends. I was thrilled to spend hours with men and women who learned directly from Walt Disney. I actually spent a weekend interviewing Ron Miller, former Disney CEO, (and Walt’s son-in-law). Meeting Diane Disney, Walt’s daughter, had to be the highlight of the entire project. At 80 years of age, she exudes the enthusiasm of her father! Each of these icons meant the world to me.

    Garnering endorsements from the likes of Michael Eisner and executives from Mercedes-Benz, Saks Fifth Avenue and many others was the ultimate stamp of approval.

    Now, time to power up with some Vegimite!!!

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