Culture Sets Tone for Engagement

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Jun 26, 2012

ATLANTA--An organization’s culture can provide a framework for selecting, training and engaging the kind of employees that best support an organization’s brand, suggested Scott Milligan, SPHR, business program consultant for the Disney Institute, during a June 25 mega session, “Disney’s Approach to Selection, Training and Engagement," at the SHRM 2012 Annual Conference, held here June 24-27.

“Culture is what you do when you are not even thinking about it,” he said. And although some organizations have cultures that have formed spontaneously, or over time, Milligan’s advice is to create a culture “by design” that is well-defined and clear to all. “If you don’t have a culture by design, you have a culture by default,” he cautioned.

Disney’s culture includes:

Language and symbols. “We speak Disney-ese,” Milligan said, such as referring to employees as “cast members,” interviews as “auditions” and jobs as “roles.” He said the language helps sustain the culture.

Heritage and traditions. Disney has an informal, fun work environment, he said, where all cast members are on a first-name basis and everyone—including the CEO, Bob Iger—wears a nametag.

Shared values. Milligan listed Disney’s seven values: openness, respect, courage, honesty, integrity, diversity and balance. He encouraged attendees to watch for evidence of those values while viewing the video all applicants see before their interview.

Quality standards. “Courtesy, efficiency safety and show” are the standards Disney lives by, he said.

Traits and behaviors. Milligan emphasized the importance of cast members caring for one another. “We must be an employee-focused organization first,” he stated, so employees can focus on customers.


“Your selection process must include deep cultural immersion,” Milligan said, to screen out those who like the job, pay and benefits but don’t fit in the culture. That’s why Disney applicants view a film that highlights expectations related to compensation, appearance, scheduling and transportation. Organizations should “state non-negotiable items up front,” he said, such as Disney’s “no visible tattoos” policy. And they should “hire for attitude rather than aptitude,” he said, because job skills can be taught while attitude cannot.


“The way you do training sends seismic signals about what your organization values,” he said. Thus, Disney avoids use of the word “orientation” and instead leads new hires through a Disney Traditions class that is fun and interactive. Training should “reinforce your culture and create emotional buy-in” while setting up new employees for success.


The Disney Traditions class ends with applause, Milligan said. New hires are asked to consider how they like to be recognized and to convey that information to their team leader on their first day so recognition is personalized for each cast member. That’s one way that Disney strives to engage employees. “The extent to which you genuinely care for your people is the extent to which they will care for your customers—and for each other,” he said. “We expect cast members to treat each other the way we treat our guests.”

Quoting Walt Disney, Milligan said, “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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