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Bookworm: Can ‘Disney U’ get you in happy business?

Some of your clients have been acting goofy these days.

When you try to see them, they duck out and you can’t find them. It’s as if they’ve gone to Pluto or something. OK, so perhaps your reputation isn’t snow white, but you’ve worked hard to take care of these clients. Now you’ve got a sweet Cinderella deal for them, but they’re hiding like mice and you’re about to have a minnie-meltdown.

The question is WWWD? In the new book “Disney U” by Doug Lipp, you’ll find out by learning how Disney’s empire focuses on the customer.

Walt Disney needed help. Van France had his work cut out for him.

The grand opening of Disneyland was scheduled for July 17, 1955, and Disney — who was known to publicly halt unsatisfactory projects at the last minute — desperately needed “passionate people to work there.” He’d met and hired France, 42, only six months earlier, but Disney put all his trust in France, asking him to build a team of employees who knew how to “create happiness.”

So Van France developed Disney University.

In order to mold an employee (or “cast member”) to give “guests” the best experience, Disney University teaches all new hires that they are a valued part of the organization. At DU, they learn that no job is beneath anyone “on-stage” or “back stage,” and they’ll often see high-level managers doing low-level jobs. They’re taught that anyone can have a “seat at the leadership table” and that the “show” message must always be kept fresh, new and relevant through constant innovation. Organizational support is mandatory at every level, employee education is presented in an entertaining way and class attendance is “nonnegotiable.”

In return for their work and loyalty (Walt Disney World has a “stunning” employee retention rate), Disney cast members enjoy great perks, including constant schooling, a certain amount of ownership in their jobs, employees-and-family events and a park-within-a-park for cast members only.

So how is the Disney way of business relevant to your company?

You’ll have to do a lot of reading between the lines to find that out.

At issue is that “Disney U” can’t seem to decide what kind of book it wants to be. Lipp begins with somewhat of a biography of Van France; in fact, he says that France was a mentor of his. A little later, the book becomes a fable, and I hate fables. There are tiny pockets of business advice here, a lot of ink about how Disney properties became what they are today and more biography — sometimes all on the same page. Readers will find school-textbook-like question lists at the end of every chapter, but not overtly much in the how-to department for your business.

I think this book strictly lives up to its subtitle (“How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees”) but I’m not sure that’s enough to spur busy businesspeople to read it. Overall, Disneyland may be The Happiest Place on Earth, but “Disney U” is not.