A company’s culture serves multiple functions within an organization. Organizational culture refers to a system of shared meanings held by members that distinguishes the organization from others1. Furthermore, it is a mechanism by which an organization and its members learn to manage both external challenges and achieve internal integration2. Strong cultures are characterized by core values that are both intensely held and widely shared. There appear to be three core traits common to strong effective cultures. First, there is clarity of vision, mission, and values among employees throughout the enterprise.
This allows workers the opportunity to understand what drives the organization’s strategy. Second, employees at all levels understand their individual and inter-dependent roles in attaining the corporate vision. Employees in different departments and business units work together to complete tasks and to advance both growth and process improvement objectives. This common understanding will further the corporate vision. Finally, there must be a strong alignment between employee attitudes and strategic goals and objectives. When people believe that their personal, professional, and/or lifestyle objectives are advanced by their current occupation, they are more likely to have positive attitudes toward the workplace. This in turn, encourages both loyalty and productivity3.
However, when the organization’s values and norms no longer agree with those that will further the organization’s effectiveness; a strong corporate culture can become a liability4. Such was the case for Disney when the organization opened a theme park in Marne-la-Vallee, France, a town located 20 miles outside of Paris. The company’s long-standing culture and practices proved too rigid for deeply rooted French preferences.
Disney’s History & Culture The Walt Disney tradition and culture is founded in that of its visionary creator, Walt Disney who moved to California in 1923 in hopes of becoming a movie producer and director. Unable to find work, Disney eventually opened his own movie company in the back of his brother’s office. But due to the competition in traditional film, Disney made animated movies instead. He believed that cartoons could become as popular as movies with traditional actors. Walt Disney’s first movie, “Steamboat Willie” starring Mickey Mouse, was released in 1928. In just five years, Walt Disney had found success. In addition to cartoons, Disney produced an array of movies and television programs featuring real actors, including films about wild animals in their natural surroundings5.
In 1954, Walt Disney opened the iconic entertainment park in California called “Disneyland.” His idea was that it would be the happiest place on Earth. The park recreated imaginary places from Disney’s movies as well as actual locations just as Disney had always imagined them. The park featured exciting rides and most memorable, its life-sized cartoons. Mickey Mouse himself was the star of the attraction. Disneyland was so successful that Disney developed plans for a second theme park to be built in Florida. The theme parks were built as an extension of the company and were meant to help people escape the problems of life through entertainment. At its very inception, the company values and norms shaped the organizational culture.
Still today, Disney Corporation is known for its strong culture and is characterized by the company’s straitlaced attitude. It is regarded as a hard-working organization, driven by family values and morality. It is viewed as a conservative decision maker in all aspects of business. These “All-American” views and attitudes towards work are deeply engrained within the company’s culture. Thus, employees at all levels must be in conformance with Disney’s corporate culture6.
Disney’s long-standing culture has led the company to much success in the company’s 87 years of existence. Through a structured hiring system, Disney recruits individuals with similar backgrounds and values. Disney employees are referred to as “cast members” and are hired to play a specific role in a “script.” Employees are expected to maintain an attractive, clean, and wholesome image, implying certain restrictions on dress, hair, makeup, jewelry, and other standards of personal hygiene. Cast members are socialized in their first two days on the job through a video presentation and a “Disney Look” booklet that is distributed to every incoming employee. This packet clearly lays out the rules on how the company’s employees are expected to look and act while they are within the grounds of the park.
Furthermore, employees are expected to smile at all times, treat customers with a friendly positive attitude, and are not to be seen smoking, eating, drinking, or out of costume. These measures are to ensure that customers will experience the magic for which Disney is well-known. While management is not forced to adhere to the strict appearance code or the park code of conduct, they are expected to remain focused on the “customer experience” at all times. It is the duty of senior management to develop strategies to ensure that customers will have the experience of their lifetimes at the park.
Despite Disney’s expansion throughout the United States and internationally, its culture has remained unchanged. The company successfully opened parks in California, Florida, and Japan without sacrificing its hard-working attitude and squeaky clean image. Furthermore, during these expansions, the majority of the management team and decision making authority remained in Disney’s California headquarters. It is likely that this very remote management style was effective because the company’s committed; American-Style work ethic closely paralleled the style of the Japanese.
Disney was able to enforce its stringent rules on food and beverage consumption within the park: alcohol was to be forbidden on the premise, no outside food was allowed in, and the majority of the food provided at the park was American fare. Disney felt that by offering well-known American brands in parks, the company could further uphold its “all-American image.” Consequently, American restaurants such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken were opened within the park. These establishments were prepared to turn customers at a high rate and were open for operation during the entire day. Consumers were able to snack as they pleased throughout the day. Historically, Disney’s lack of focus on food had been an effort to further emphasize the various magical happenings throughout the park7.