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Send Your Volunteer Teams Back to School: Lessons from Disney University - Part II

Send Your Volunteer Teams Back to School: Lessons from Disney University - Part II

More memorable lessons from Mickey's manual

Last week, I introduced the concept of team training as practiced at Disney University.

Part I - Link here.

This week, more lessons from Disney U, a new book by Doug Lipp, former head of the training team of Disney University.

As a guest services team leader at Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, I immediately saw the value of these lessons to our guest services teams. However, these lessons apply to all volunteer teams in your church.

Class is now in session here are five more Iessons for your volunteer teams.

Lesson 6: Simplify the Complex

Providing the happiest place on earth means that cast members must manage a delicate balance of priorities; without clarity, the task become overwhelming.

Van France, founder of the Disney University recognized the challenge. In response, he simplified this inherently complex environment by providing every cast member with crystal-clear marching orders during his or her Disney University orientation.

The recipe for creating the magical environment at Disneyland involved boiling down park operations into four priorities that represent the values driving every decision:

Safety The most important priority for guests and cast members. Cast members must often protect guests from themselves. Every operations and design decision must first address safety.

Courtesy Cast members know the value of the smiles on their faces and in their voices and the importance of engaging guests. A lack of cast member courtesy will poison the safest and most interesting environment.

Show Once safety and courtesy are assured, attention turns to show. Well-maintained attractions and facilities populated by well-groomed cast members ensure good show, a condition Walt Disney passionately promoted.

Efficiency This last priority refers to the number of guests enjoying the attractions, restaurants, and retail shops. Accomplishing the first three priorities ensures that this fourth one is sustainable in the form of happy and loyal cast members and guests.

More than five decades after Disney University team members created them, these four keys serve as the foundation for everything Disney does.

Application: Simplify the Complex

How are complex operations and processes communicated in your organization? Are priorities succinct and memorable?

How do you help team members understand standard operating procedures and priorities?

How does your training staff leverage experience from one area to another?

What are your priorities? Can you summarize your standard operating procedures and priorities, regardless of complexity, with memorable phrases or acronyms?

Lesson 7: The Honeymoon Will End

Anyone who has ever been involved in a grand opening knows the feeling. The energy accompanying the preopening, followed by the eventual letdown afterward, can be an emotional roller coaster.

The size and scope of Walt Disney World were unprecedented. It faced an equally immense employee relations crisis as the park began to experience large numbers of staff turnover just a few years after it opened.

To counter this, Disney executive Dick Nunis began a series of meetings of the divisional vice presidents. In a small, sparse room more like an unfinished attic than a meeting room the meetings began.

That room, in the tower of Cinderella's Castle, the symbol of the happiest place on earth, would be the location for a miraculous turnaround.

The meetings led to a revised employee development strategy of centralized activities controlled by the Disney University and decentralized activities under the control of the divisions.

Application: Crisis Management and Culture Change

In your organization, what is the equivalent of a honeymoon coming to an end?

What symbols represent the culture of your organization?

How could these symbols be used to help reinforce organizational culture and resolve crises?

How do you communicate important messages?

Lesson 8: Keep Plussing the Show

Sometime during the 1940s, Walt Disney coined the term "plussing." Walt used the word as a verb an action word. To "plus" something is to improve it. "Plussing" means giving your customers more than you paid for, more than they expect, more than you have to give them.

During the decade after Walt Disney's death in 1966, and as the excitement of Disneyland and Disney World began to wane with new entertainment options, Van France was determined to reignite the can-do culture of Disney.

With Walt Disney's admonition to "keep plussing the show" in mind, France prepared a refresher course for park management. In a 15-page memo and a series of short, open forum-style meetings with park management, Van helped a discouraged team reconnect with its roots by emphasizing Disney's bottom line: a happy guest.

Plussing the show calls for a keen eye, the ability to focus on the root issues, and a refusal to accept mediocrity.

Application: Plussing the Show

How is plussing the show handled in your organization?

How are you addressing the challenge of keeping team members engaged and motivated?

What do you do to improving Guest experiences?

How creative is your organization in taking training out of the classroom?

Can you create a similarly effective low-budget program that helps plus your guest experience?

Lesson 9: Beyond Orientation Executive Development

The entrepreneurial and highly innovative culture created by the Disney organization had an unintended consequence: divisional and communication silos.

People were so focused on their areas of responsibility that they didn't consider their impact on other divisions and departments. Executives lost sight of the big picture, and as a result, lost some opportunities for synergy.

To counter that, the Disney University team created an experience for the executives that borrowed from Van France's timeless model for any training program:

Make it simple, not simplistic

Make it enjoyable

Design experiential activities that make it memorable

The result: Disney Dimensions, a training program for 25 senior leaders throughout Disney. It was designed to give them a full-immersion, 7-day experience of the California and Florida theme parks, as well as Disney Studios and Imagineering (the design geniuses behind the parks).

Essentially, the executives were exposed to every business unit in the company and had them solving each other's problems.

Application: Executive Development

How is executive development handled in your organization?

What is being done to fully engage executives in organizational collaboration? Who does it and how frequently?

How are real-time ministry issues used in training and development programs?

Are there examples of ministry hits and misses that can be transformed into case studies for senior leadership team development?

Lesson 10: The Language of Success - Creating a Culture of Happiness

Beginning with the original staff orientation, Van's goal always remained the same: instill a sense of pride among employees.

One of Van's strategies for accomplishing this involved creating a whole new language at Disney that would reinforce the dignity of every job in the park.

Disney is a huge stage; Van leveraged this by introducing show-business terms.

The culture created by leadership support and mutual respect gives life to the fanciful words cast member, guest, good show, costume, on-stage, and backstage.

These terms encompass values found throughout the organization.

Application: Words Reflect Culture

Does your organization use unique words to identify team members and guests?

Does the culture of your organization support those words?

How are organizational values reflected in words and actions?

What message does your volunteer process convey to potential team members?

How might the volunteer process be improved (consider safety, courtesy, show, efficiency or your equivalent values)?

That's it for this week! I hope you've enjoyed these lessons from Disney University but don't get too settled: next week, it's time for a lab report.

As you read this, I am spending two days at Walt Disney World one day in the Magic Kingdom focusing on the new Fantasyland expansion, and another full day in a "Behind the Magic" tour of all four theme parks at Walt Disney World.

Next week: Uncovering the Secret to the "Magic" of Disney

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