The Smile Factory Essay

Disneyland is a world of fantasies where people go to have fun and get lost in a world of fairytales.  The ‘happiest place on earth’ opened to the public on July 17th, 1955 (“Disneyland Timeline”).

Much work had gone into it, much dreaming and research prior to that.  It was an instant success with 28,154 people streaming through the gates to visit the main attractions which included mainstreet, tomorrowland, fantasyland, adventureland and frontierland (“Disneyland Timeline”).  There were many mishaps on that day, but none of that could stop the success of Disneyland which ten years later boasted 50 million attendees (“Disneyland History”).Much preparation goes into the creation of Disneyland as many know it today.  There are more than 4,000 ride operators alone among other additional workers who give all it takes to make Disneyland the fun place it is (Van Maanen 2). All the workers at Disney must have the same culture and operate under the same rules and guidelines if the fantasy world is to be created.  The strengths of Disneyland’s culture lie then in the recruitment, training and orientation of its workers to create the right atmosphere for the job and thereafter in enforcing the same.

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  There are strict recruitment guidelines where diversity is kept at a minimum and the majority of those hired are Caucasian single individuals in their early twenties.  They must portray good health and have high standards of grooming, no crooked teeth and have great posture, tall and slender as well as be conservative in their dress and adornment (Van Maanen 2).  It would certainly not do to have an overweight Cinderella, as the storybook princess must be as close to how she appears in the book as possible.  The other strength is in the training and orientation, where employees are taught how to carry themselves and what language to use while on duty at Disney University.  They are taught people skills that include how to handle irate clients, how to direct human traffic with a smile, how to disseminate information as needed among others.  In the event of an unruly crowd or guest, security hosts are always on the look out to assist as needed (Van Maanen 3).  All customers are “guests”, all rides are “attractions” and Disneyland is referred to not as an amusement center but a “park”, and has staging regions.  One is never in the real world at Disneyland.

  The workers are considered “on-stage” when at their duty stations, “back-stage” when at break, and “off-stage” when off duty.  Their uniforms, which must be worn at work are considered costumes and referred to as such.  They are taught to act out the part to make it as real as possible (Van Maanen 6).  The strength of Disney’s culture lies in its philosophy and Disney endeavors to create happiness by changing the environment.  They rely on the keys to quality at Disneyland which include a great show, efficiency, safety and courtesy (“Contagious Business”). All these are taught at Disney University.

Some of the values taught at Disney University include “the customer is King” in a bid to ensure that the guests are accorded the treatment and courtesy due them.  Another is “everyone is a child at heart when at Disneyland” (Van Maanen 7). The standards that govern Disney’s operations and treatment of the people the employees come into contact with are integrity, trust, honesty, fair play, teamwork and respect.  These are the beliefs and values that Disney is founded on and will continue to be founded on in the future (“Standards”)By putting the customer first, Disney employees can go about the business of making people happy day in and day out.  However, in a bid to do so many of them too tired to keep up appearances will ‘check out’ or go on ‘automatic pilot’ in order to carry out their duties, which by some is considered a form of passive aggression in a place where they are stripped of all individuality and personal expression to live everyone else’s fantasy. (Van Maanen, 13).Employee or cast member behavior is closely monitored and controlled at Disney.  It begins in training where they are informed over and over again what their position is in the park and how to behave at all times.

  They are trained on what is considered appropriate and what is not.  Some of the things a cast member is not supposed to do while on-stage include eating, drinking, smoking, sleeping, chewing gum, sitting down, leaning against a railing or a wall and folding their arms (“Contagious Business”).  All this is enforced by supervisors who are always on the look out for such behavior.  They can be spotted in their white short sleeved shirts and walkie talkies.

  However, there are other un-uniformed upper level supervisors who pose as guests in a bid to catch the workers doing the wrong thing.  The said supervisors will hide in blind spots which may include bushes in a bid to ensure that the work is carried out as it should.  Because of this, they are considered tricksters and sneaks by those they are supervising (Van Maanen 9).  Another way that Disney controls its workers is by portraying an image of them as ever smiling and willing to help such that the guests will point out an employee who is not living up to the image.

  Using glances, hints, tactless or tactful cues and glares, the guests quickly let the cast member know he or she is letting them down and not living up to the set image (Van Maanen 9).  The employees are taught to be polite in all circumstances.  They also understand that it is an act and so they must keep up appearances until they are off stage.

  They are also made to understand that they are also a part of what Disney is selling and because of that they forfeit their own feelings and prejudices so that they can appear dedicated and enthusiastic about the work they are doing.  Perhaps the most notable surveillance they endure is that of the guests who are a constant reminder that the act must go on.  Indeed the supervisor’s close scrutiny fades into obscurity in light of these close looks from children, teenagers and adults who have come to the park to enjoy themselves and expect to be cheered in this fantasy world (Van Maanen 11).In order to teach and enforce its culture, Disney ensures that each person working there goes through Disney University where they are taught the values, beliefs and culture of Disney.  This culture includes the fact the Disneyland is a world fantasies.

  They too, like the guests must forget the cares of the real world and take on whatever role they are given.  Disney reinforces this with language in the workplace.  The employees are all ‘cast members’ and their work station is the stage.  Their uniforms also known as ‘costumes’ are another way of teaching and enforcing their culture on their employees.  These uniforms could be anything from jumpsuits, officer uniforms, Pirate’s costume, or a vested pilot of a riverboat (Van Maanen 4).  These uniforms also signify rank with many of the employees fighting to go higher up the ranks in order to have a better uniform.  With women the rank that goes with the uniform is just a minor aspect compared to the ‘sexiness’ of the said uniform.

  An example is when the ride operators for the newly opened “It’s a small world” were given shorter and more revealing tops.  The tour guides whose uniform had previously been the equivalent of haute couture within the park lobbied to get them better covered by having their hemline lowered and the neckline lifted (Van Maanen 4).   By these uniforms, the employees identity is given to them.  There is no room for imagination as all that has already been done for them.  The employees are also constantly monitored whether they be on stage, back stage and sometimes off stage.  The officials at Disney land also make inquiries albeit periodically on their personal habits in regards to narcotics abuse as well as sexual behavior (Van Maanen 12).  The threat of dismissal is also always hovering over their heads as well in the event that they are caught on the wrong side of Disney law.  Using such tactics the employees are managed emotionally as well (Van Maanen 13).

  Additionally, initial training programs as well as continuous training programs are a must have in order to teach and reinforce the culture of Disney (Van Maanen 13).The world of Disney may be a great place for visitors and even workers, but to create such an atmosphere takes strict discipline and having a team of employees that buy into the vision and are willing to carry it out.  Disney has achieved a monumental task of ingraining its corporate culture, values and standards in the thousands of individuals who come together to make the dream work.  So well have they succeeded that the ‘Disney Way’ of doing things has become a world wide model for corporates to emulate.

  One can only wait with bated breath to see what the world of dreams will come up with next.Works Cited“Contagious Business Philosophy the ‘Disney Way’” Themed Retrieved March 24, 2009. <http://www.>“Disneyland History”.  Site created and owned by Brad A.  Retrieved March 24, 2009.  <http://www.>“Disneyland Timeline.”  Site created and owned by Brad A.

  Retrieved March 24, 2009. <

html>“Standards of Business Conduct.” The Walt Disney Company. Retrieved March 24, 2009. <http://corporate.disney.go.

com/corporate/conduct_standards.html>Van Maanen, J. “The Smile Factory: Work at Disney Land.” Reframing Organizational Culture. Ed. Peter J.

Frost, et al.  Sage Publications, 1990. 58-76. Retrieved March 24, 2009. <>