How Walt Disney World Onboards New Cast Members (Employees)

I believe that one of the most important moments in an employee’s tenure with a company is the new hire onboarding or orientation process. Good or bad, most people remember how they were introduced to the organization and how they felt during that time. They either remember it as a highlight in their career or as a boring, confusing slog through a bunch of confusing information. 

Two Faces of New Hire Onboarding 

If orientation is done well, you feel welcome and you feel prepared to do the work you were hired to do. You have positive feelings about the organization and the role you’re to play in that organization.

If new-hire orientation is done poorly, you feel like an interruption to the operation. You feel that your coworkers are simply tolerating your presence, hoping that you get up to speed quickly. It’s sink or swim time. Maybe you’re just given a handbook that outlines: 

  • What you get fired for.

  • Key phone numbers to know.

  • The benefits that go with working there. 

Now get to work! 

Walt Disney World New-Hire Onboarding 

I feel very fortunate to have begun my professional career at Walt Disney World. Although I joined the company in 1978, I will always remember the power of their new hire onboarding process, which was called Disney Traditions. I feel confident that
most Disney cast members (current and former) feel the same way. 

The first day of work for EVERY new cast member was a one-day class called “Disney Traditions.” You didn’t start your job until you completed Disney Traditions. The class covered three important aspects of working at Walt Disney World. I believe these elements can be applied in any organization: 

  • Legacy – Where the company came from. How Walt and Roy Disney built the company from nothing into one of the most beloved companies in the world. I remember the feeling of pride because I was now a part of that legacy.

  • Our True Product – Disney’s true product is HAPPINESS. I remember well the stories told during Disney Traditions of ways cast members played a part in the happiness of guests. I remember wanting to be a part of making people happy. The stories shared touched my heart.

  • What’s Expected – The person conducting the Disney Traditions class was very specific about what was expected of us as cast members. He shared the Disney service standards, appearance guidelines, and other expectations for being a part of the cast. The why behind these non-negotiables was very clear. 

By the end of that one-day session I was charged up and excited about my new role. But training wasn’t over. During my on-the-job training at the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction, my trainer, Jeff (I even remember his name after 43 years!) wove those three elements into the training. 

Ongoing Training 

One of the questions I’m regularly asked is, “How long is the training at Disney?” I’m sure you can guess the answer to that question. Training is ongoing. Those three elements are built into just about every training opportunity as well as all communication tools. It’s around you all the time. Some might say that sounds like brainwashing, but I say it sounds like good business. Constantly reinforcing the culture of your organization just makes sense if you believe that culture is important.

How About You? 

Every organization is different. The process for onboarding new hires in your organization might take a different form than a class like Disney uses. Yours might take the form of one-on-one training or a virtual session. Regardless of the form training takes, you can still weave in those three elements of Legacy, True Product, and What’s Expected. And the elements can be built into ongoing training and communication. 

Something to Think About 

Does your new-hire onboarding process excite or bore new employees? Does it effectively introduce them to your culture or simply throw a bunch of confusing information at them?