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What Higher Ed Can Learn from Disney
April 25, 2011 - 8:16pm

I just got back from a week at Walt Disney World with my extended family. Less a vacation, and more of an epic quest to fully socialize the kids into being lifetime consumers of all things Disney branded (but I digress).

My best day at Disney was spent largely in the Magic Kingdom's basement (actually the first floor, as the park was built over the first floor of a huge building that was built on a swamp), participating in the "Keys to the Kingdom Tour."

To quote from the Keys to the Kingdom website:

"One unforgettable highlight is a trip below Magic Kingdom theme park into the service tunnels known as the Utilidors. This is one urban legend that is absolutely, and almost unbelievably, true — the Guest accessible areas of Magic Kingdom theme park are actually on the second floor of a massive structure. The first floor — called the Utilidors — allows Cast Members, deliveries and even trash to be unknowingly transported below Guests' feet as they wait in line for their favorite attraction."

Price, $74 (on top of your regular park pass - highly recommended).

I came away from the tour extremely impressed with the operational culture, and the professionals that make Disney World run. Disney is the largest employer in Central Florida, with about 65,000 employees (which makes it the largest single-site employer in the U.S.). The Resort sits on 40 square miles, and they have only developed about a third of that space. Over the next couple of decades we will see the size of the Disney World double, with new theme parks, resorts, and who knows what else.

The Disney employees (cast members) that I spoke with are "true believers." Culture kills strategy, and Disney makes enormous efforts to ensure that all cast members have fully bought into the Disney way (which includes strict dress, jewelry, tattoos and personal grooming codes). Disney enforces and creates this culture by making every decision against four quality standards:

  • Safety
  • Courtesy
  • Show
  • Efficiency

These quality standards are in order of priority. Each decision, action, service, and employee task is judged and evaluated against these criteria.

Having 4 quality standards as a framework to make decisions and evaluate performance permits an organization as large and unwieldy as Disney to deliver a quality product at a profit. The standards are a leveler, a roadmap that every employee from the highest executive, to the newest hire (or participant in the Disney College Program), can follow.

What would be higher ed's four quality standards? Maybe: Community, Learning, Service, Knowledge?

This list does not include safety and efficiency, two standards I think will be very important to me as I send my daughters off to college in 2015 and 2017 (and try to pay for the tuition).

What do you think we can learn from Disney?



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