10 Things I Learned from Disney – #2: Values are Non-Negotiable

Walt_young_featureWalt Disney’s values were forged in the hardscrabble reality of Kansas City, growing up in a family led by a father that never was quite able to grab success by the tail. Walt was a deeply spiritual individual who held the importance of American and Family values above all else. He spent the rest of his life pursuing an ideal – that of clean wholesome family entertainment. Walt was scrupulous about it. I suspect the adult movies that are now released through Disney’s production arm, Touchstone Films, would have earned a disapproving frown from Walt. Yet of all the major studios, Disney is still the one synonymous with family entertainment.

The normally affable Walt could quickly become contentious when his values came into debate. He drove the overall moral tone of Disney entertainment with an iron will. The door was open for technical and creative innovation, but heaven help the poor Disney employee who let their moral guard slip, even for an instant. It’s only very recently that Disney Park employees were allowed to have a beard, a mustache (ironic, considering Walt himself sported one) or sideburns. Walt felt facial hair detracted from the clean, wholesome image he wanted to maintain in his parks. And the classic Disney films each strove to be more than entertainment – they each carried a strong moral message, usually about the value of a strong family unit.

Whether or not you agreed with Walt’s highly idealistic views, you had to admire the ardor with which he defended them. Walt felt that a corporation without real values was a soulless organization without direction. And his values still live in Disney’s corporate values today:

Values Make Our Brands Stand Out

    * Innovation
          o We follow a strong tradition of innovation.

    * Quality
          o We strive to follow a high standard of excellence.
          o We maintain high-quality standards across all product categories.

    * Community
          o We create positive and inclusive ideas about families.
          o We provide entertainment experiences for all generations to share.

    * Storytelling
          o Every product tells a story.
          o Timeless and engaging stories delight and inspire.

    * Optimism
          o At The Walt Disney Company, entertainment is about hope, aspiration and positive resolutions.

    * Decency
          o We honor and respect the trust people place in us.
          o Our fun is about laughing at our experiences and ourselves.

Are they defended as strongly as they were when Walt was alive? I suspect not, yet it’s a testament to the man that for must of us, Disney and family values are synonymous.

Values are a highly personal thing. You might not subscribe to the same values that Walt did. But the fact is, values have to live at the heart of an organization. They breathe life into it and give it a purpose that’s not open to negotiation or compromise. They are the bearing points that can always be relied on. They stand above profit statements and quarterly earning reports. If they don’t, all you have is a bunch of people standing around trying to figure out the best way to make money. And there are better things in life than that.

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