Disney Adds a Key to Help Unlock Its Future

September 25, 2020, 2:12 PM · The Walt Disney theme parks may be about to announce one of the biggest changes in their history.

It's not a new resort, a new park, or even a new attraction. But this reported change will affect every aspect of the parks' operation and development. So what is it?

It's an addition to the "Four Keys" that are taught to every new hire as the guiding principles for all Disney theme park cast members. A Disneyland cast member provided me a screenshot of the announcement from Disney's cast member website The Hub:

"For more than 60 years, the Four Keys of Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency have provided a foundation for our culture and guided our renowned approach to service as we've welcomed guests from all over the world.

"As we keep moving forward and working together to drive meaningful cultural change, we are introducing Inclusion as a new key and will be rolling our the Five Keys globally across the segment."

As a former Disney cast member who still displays a "Disney University" diploma on my home office wall, hearing that Disney is adding a fifth Key is a bit like hearing that climatologists have decided to add a fifth season, the Church is adding a fifth Gospel, or that the Marvel has decided that it's "The Fantastic Five" now.

But I could not be happier with this reported change. (Disney has not yet sent out a press release or formally announced this to the public that I could find.) Disney's Four Keys have helped guide the company's cast members to make Disney's theme parks world leaders not just in the themed entertainment and travel industries, but for all customer-facing businesses.

Leadership goes beyond just being the most popular or profitable. It also means that you set an example that inspires others. Disney's Four Keys have done that, having been adopted in various forms by countless businesses in multiple industries. Now the addition of Inclusion to the Keys provides Disney an opportunity to take its leadership to another level.

A business, an artist, or even an art form, cannot grow if it is unwilling or unable to accommodate new influences and new voices. As a creative business, Disney must practice Inclusion if it is to continue to welcome and reward new audiences, even if that new audience is simply the next generation of potential fans. But there's so much more opportunity in this world beyond that.

Inclusion could be considered part of all four existing Keys. But drawing it out and highlighting in as its own Key demonstrates Inclusion's importance among the company's priorities. More than that, it gives Disney's cast members an agency that the company has not yet made so explicit before.

Being inclusive is inherently proactive. Doing it right demands that you go above and beyond — it's not just being open to new voices. It's seeking them out. Adding Inclusion to the Keys challenges Disney's cast members not just to maintain the parks at a high level but to make them better.

Now I am interested to see where Disney slots Inclusion among the new Five Keys. Order has always been important. Safety is first among the Keys and must always remain there. And I think that Courtesy allows Inclusion to happen. But Inclusion can't just be for Show, so I would suggest that's where Inclusion should stand — as the third Key after Safety and Courtesy, but before Show.

Adding another word to the Keys won't by itself do anything to change Disney. But if the company — from Josh D'Amaro to the newest new hire — embraces Inclusion as part of the company's culture, Disney will unlock new opportunities that the addition of new voices, new influences, and new perspectives will bring.

As a fan, I can't wait to see the results.

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Replies (6)

September 25, 2020 at 2:16 PM

I'm sure the discussion on this at various places will be good, calm, reasoned, rational, I'm sorry, I can't even finish that with a straight face.

Personally, I'm all for it but sadly know other areas may not see it in such a positive light....

September 25, 2020 at 2:35 PM

Something tells me that Disney will not be treating this like the lip service it is typically given from other Fortune 500 companies - frankly, I feel Disney is already one of the most inclusive/diverse companies on Earth already, though sometimes it feels a bit forced/reactionary like the Splash Mountain announcement. While many companies talk the talk, I know that Disney already does and will continue to walk the walk. However, as important as diversity/inclusion is, it cannot/should not be used as a sole determiner during decision making just because a given choice checks this box.

As Robert has noted, it can be an important consideration, but should not be placed above safety or courtesy, and situation-specific factors beyond the now 5 Keys should also play a role so that the stigmas associated with programs like Affirmative Action are not applied to this important and worthy addition to Disney's operating principles.

September 25, 2020 at 3:24 PM

@RusellMeyer: Walt was always a bit more forward-thinking as he could see changes in society on racial matters earlier than others (oh, he had his personal issues but smart enough to know not to let that interfere with the business). A key reason he chose Florida was them being more open on equal opportunity matters than other states in the 1960s South. Disney has followed that since so it does sound more them just enhancing it than the lip service style announcements you hear from scores of other companies.

September 25, 2020 at 9:18 PM

And here I thought it was going to be a paid front of the line perk.

September 26, 2020 at 1:02 PM

Wow Disney, I get a tear in my eye. Inclusion to grow and earn more money. I mean inclusion for low income families who clearly are more in need for vacation than the 1%. Inclusion for staff that are fired to give management full payment. Sure you could put that under Courtesy but now there is that new word.
Disney is the best in...words.

September 27, 2020 at 11:07 PM

Commendable. Russell has it right in his first paragraph, and I think Disney has and will continue to take it seriously. At the end of the day Walt was nothing if not forward-thinking, and Disney is smart to be ahead of the historical curve on inclusion and diversity (even if he always wasn't).

I want every kid to know the joy of Disneyland just like me.

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