Some Organizations Aren’t Ready for Training: A Lesson from Disney University

training and development

“Marketing is the time and money you spend to get people in the door. Training is the investment you make to get customers to come back and employees to stay; it creates loyalty.”

Jim Cora, retired chairman, Disneyland International

What is the secret behind the success of Disney’s world famous employee development organization, the Disney University? Leadership support and no excuses!

Somewhere in the world, the following two scenarios are currently being played out. Both reflect a passive, victim mentality. Both undermine sustained employee and organizational development. Both open the door to competitors.

Scenario #1: “This weak economy is killing me. ‘Do more with less’ is the name of the game. My budgets are slashed and I have no wiggle room.”

The Result:

  • I don’t have the budget, time or people for training.
  • Why train employees? They’ll be gone pretty soon.

Scenario #2: “This booming economy is killing me. We’re barely filling existing orders. Plus I can’t keep my good people. They jump ship as soon as someone else comes along waving a little extra money.”

The Result:

  • I don’t have the time or people for training.
  • Why train employees? They’ll be gone pretty soon.

These two organizations are at opposite ends of the economic spectrum; one is in a dying environment and the other in a thriving environment. Yet, the economy aside, there are surprising similarities between the two. The odds are good that neither organization has a history or culture of providing useful employee training, supported by the top leaders.

The extremes of economic booms and busts will never vanish. Both create considerable stess among leaders, and no one is immune. Leaders in government, business, religious institutions, non-profits and start-up organizations all face similar challenges.

Boom and bust extremes force leaders to consider ways to address the following challenges:

  • Do more with less.
  • Keep employees engaged and motivated.
  • Reduce employee turnover.
  • Improve customer service.
  • Differentiate from the competition.

Differentiation is the ultimate goal; how to stand out as the employer-of-choice, vendor-of-choice, service-provider-of-choice or, the whatever-of-choice.

Differentiating via doing more with less, keeping employees engaged and motivated and improving customer service is now more of a constant than an oddity. The anxiety and stress that used to be felt only during the extremes of boom and bust is now a daily reality for many.

So how does Disney and, more important, the Disney University do it? In my best-selling book: Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal and Customer-Centric Employees, I reveal the Four Circumstances the Disney University founder, Van France, attributes to its success … Factors that keep the training from being viewed as a “necessary evil,” or worse … “nauseating!” These Four Circumstances are another name for organizational values … Specifically they are:

─ Innovate, Support, Educate and Entertain ─

Leaders must be innovative and comfortable with risk. Leaders must provide overt, enthusiastic and sustained support. Be cheerleaders of training! Employee education and development must be an indispensable component of organizational culture; And employee training … ranging from the front lines to the executive suite … must be entertaining, engaging and memorable … not boring and forgettable!

The wild ride on the economic roller-coaster quickly gets out of control when any one of these four values are jettisoned and excuses start flying.

Blaming the economy is a convenient excuse for not providing training.

My mentor and founder of the Disney University, Van France, challenged many Disney executives with the following rant:

“The budget has become the scapegoat for every possible negative action and rejection of any suggestion for improving things. Cutting budgets is the coward’s way out of any problem.