Organizational culture is the set of values and practices that are foundational to the way the organization operates. It includes the company’s vision as well as the ways in which it is practically realized on all levels. Any informal activities that take place or tendencies to operate, such as letting employees exercise autonomy and encouraging innovation, are also part of organizational culture. At the Walt Disney Company, the culture emphasizes details, aiming to create as perfect a picture as possible for the guests. A famous part of training for every employee is a visit to a Disneyworld so that they may experience the treatment guests receive and work to provide the same quality. As such, management exercises tight control over most aspects of proceedings, trying to take every possible scenario into account during performances and regulating employees’ hair length, facial hair, and jewelry allowances (Isabella & Yemen, 2017). Workers who interact with guests are expected to be ready for every question or emergency and forbidden to complain where they might be heard. To that end, each new assignment is accompanied by one or several training courses that prepare workers for every eventuality.
This customer focus has achieved its overall purpose, and many visitors, especially children, greatly enjoy their time at the company’s parks. The workers attend to all of their needs while maintaining the magic of Disney movies, creating a highly enjoyable experience. This excellent service is combined with carefully-designed attractions that both recall classic works and reflect the company’s latest products, appealing to both longtime fans and those only recently becoming familiar with Disney. As a result, the customers leave with a positive image of their time at the parks that is then further reinforced through engagement with other Disney products. Per Isabella and Yemen (2017), the children, in particular, grow to love Disneyland and return there as adults to relive the experience. They bring their children, as well, continuing and perpetuating the phenomenon and improving the performance of the parks. Additionally, the reputation of Disneyland has spread worldwide, with many parents considering it an excellent option for bringing their children on a holiday. Ultimately, the company was able to leverage its culture to expand its customer base and ensure its longevity.
The Foundation and Continuation of the Culture
The pursuit of perfection that characterizes Disney’s culture came from its founder, Walt Disney. Isabella and Yemen (2017) state that his ideas were for the parks to be “picture-perfect” and the “happiest place on Earth” for the guests visiting them (p. 3). At the time, amusement parks were associated with uncleanliness and overall lack of care caused by the number of guests and the inevitable dirt they would bring and spread. However, Walt Disney wanted to create a different experience for visitors, one that would not be subject to all of these issues while retaining all of the advantages. The only way to do so was through hard work and careful consideration of every detail, with each park worker playing a role in addition to executing their regular duties and every object serving some additional purpose besides decoration. Isabella and Yemen (2017) suggest that this idea came from Disney’s animator background, as a similar consideration about each element serving a purpose is also present in that field. Despite the resistance of those around him, Disney was able to put his idea into practice and succeeded, bringing wealth to his company and laying down the roots of expansion before dying.
Walt Disney died in 1966, 11 years after the opening of the first Disneyland park and 27 years after founding the eponymous company. As such, he and his brother Roy had ample time to design the company’s organizational culture and prove that it was effective at achieving the goals they set out. Moreover, Walt Disney founded Disney University, a facility with the purpose of relaying his beliefs and values to every new employee and carrying on his legacy. These factors have led the company to continue following the same principles after his departure, as they were clearly established and entrenched throughout the business, directly contributing to its success. As such, even in the absence of a visionary leader, Disney retained its values of promoting perfection while letting workers maintain their individuality. There was some turbulence, with the movie business temporarily deprioritized and talent in that branch leaving, but the parks remained stable (Isabella & Yemen, 2017). However, the company was eventually able to return to more effective management and recover its filmmaking business, growing it to its current massive size. Throughout this time, it was able to adhere to Walt Disney’s original organizational culture model with limited alterations.
Disney follows some of the steps of the socialization process in strong cultures, but not all of them. Isabella and Yemen (2017) describe its rigorous selection process for employees, with extensive in-depth interviewing, provision of information about the positions, and opportunities to choose not to pursue the job. However, those who are given the job offer and accept it do not undergo hazing, instead of proceeding directly to the next step. With that said, rather than the expected third step, they are put through a Traditions course, learning about Disney’s history and values alongside their regular training. These measures are reflective of the fifth and sixth steps, exposure to core culture and organizational folklore. Following training, the new hires begin working in the trenches, first shadowing a more experienced team member to learn about their work and then starting independent operations. There, their efforts are recognized, and they are rewarded for feats of excellent performance, which corresponds to the rewards and promotions step. The case study does not mention the role model approach explicitly, but, given the fact that new workers explicitly shadow others and receive mentoring, the assumption that it is present is likely safe.
As a result of the socialization process, new employees come to understand Disney’s culture and their role in it. Per Isabella and Yemen (2017), employees are expected to adhere to the stringent standards set by the company while still expressing their individuality. To that end, they can find the task that they prefer and focus on it, contributing to the organization in their own way. At the same time, they are capable of performing the duties demanded of them by Disney to a standard required by the company. As a result, they become committed workers who put the guests while also growing as a performer and developing an understanding of the dramatic effects that form the core of the experience at Disneyland. Through socialization, employees come to respect the company’s culture and participate in it, meshing well with both the workers and the visitors. The company’s vision is preserved, and the experiences in its parks stay authentic and beloved by the customers.
Isabella, L. A., & Yemen, G. (2017). The wonderful world of human resources at Disney. Web.