Spanning Cultural, Linguistic and Generational Gaps: Do You Know How?

“Managers need to know that the people they supervise are different from what they were ten years ago.”                                                                              Van France, Founder of Disney University

You’re skating on thin ice if you and your leadership team thinks everyone in your organization is communicating and getting along well. Most organizations ignore—out of ignorance, not malice—the unique needs of a continually evolving and culturally-diverse workforce. Cultural groups and communities come is all forms, sizes, ages, ethnicities and languages. Properly managed, these communities can create unparalleled creativity and marketplace success. When ignored or improperly managed, these communities can devolve into cultural silos, full of employees who don’t communicate with each other, or with customers.

Cultures are Neighborhoods Disney University founder Van France used the term “neighborhoods” to identify the diverse areas, functions and employees in the park—the cultural communities—within Disneyland. Van was well ahead of many other executives when he expressed concern about obstacles he saw separating the Disney neighborhoods.  These barriers between groups were creating silos, miscommunication and distrust. Van, recognizing the value and creative power of a diverse team, worked tirelessly to remove the frustrations that can cause these neighborhoods to drift apart.

In a 1981 report, Van challenged leadership to address his following concerns to better integrate Disneyland’s many neighborhoods:

Job Functions: “As with any community, we have a variety of ‘neighborhoods.’ People in these neighborhoods frequently don’t mix with others. Warehouse residents seldom visit the administration building unless it is on business.”

 Our Age Range: “We have a wide employee age range which varies from 16-70. Our people reflect the maturing of the last 25 years. Managers need to know that the people they supervise are different from what they were ten years ago.”

Our Many Languages: “Although our community includes many who can speak most international languages, we also converse in technical jargon which is difficult to understand if one is outside one’s ‘neighborhood.’”

Our Training Programs: “My opinion is that we need to alter the material we include in orientation. I may be wrong, but we need to reassess what is working and what isn’t. Most certainly, a [newly-hired] warehouse person must feel isolated if all the examples [Disney University trainers give] are about handling our guests instead of handling boxes.”

Reinforcing the need to bridge the gaps between the many Disneyland neighborhoods, Van argued against looking at cast members strictly as numbers on headcount reports and spreadsheets. “Is the person behind the number a college graduate, a landscape host, or someone who can’t speak English?”

Those who choose to expand their ability to connect with the cultural neighborhoods they serve will thrive. Those who don’t will be left behind. Where do you stand?

Excerpt from

Disney U:

How Disney University Develops the World’s Most

Engaged, Loyal and Customer-Centric Employees

Published by McGraw-Hill Professional

March, 2013