Transformation Talks: Culture Transformation at Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines is a major US airline, and the largest low-cost carrier in the world. According to the Business Insider, Southwest is one of the most admired companies in the US, and it is very much respected in the aviation industry, an industry which is more renowned for delayed flights and usually bad customer service, rather than for a corporate culture. The airline is also performing well financial wise, despite the sector being rarely profitable.
Business Insider appreciates that the main reasons for the company to enjoy this type of reputation is its focus on culture and customer experience, a legacy left from its founder, Herb Kelleher, legacy that is still persisting even after his departure as the CEO of Southwest Airlines.
Mr Herb Kelleher has revealed for Fortune that there is no secret formula to the success of the airline and he compared it to :
“A huge mosaic to which you add little pieces to, in order to make it work – “And it's not a job that you do for six months and then you just say - Well, that's behind us. It's something you do every day.”
According to Business Insider, at Southwest Airlines, employees come first, and their happiness is prioritized over customer satisfaction. Despite this being an unusual style, it seems to work for the airline which according to Forbes, employs around 47,000 people and delivers service to more than 100 million customers per year.
Southwest airlines is renowned for empowering employees to be proud of their job by forming a culture which is fun and inclusive, and promoting core values which remind the employees to enjoy their work, this consequently translating in employees creating a
better experience for the customers and treating them better. Forbes also mentions that the airline is pointing out at employees with a proactive attitude and is making every team member feel responsible for the success of their colleagues. An environment which thrives on team work means employees deliver their best results, and this in turn is triggering customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Therefore, Southwest’ approach is clear and simple, meaning they put the employees first, but they want their employees to put customer first. It is indeed a win-win situation.
According to Kelleher, taking care of each employee’s satisfaction is not an easy process, and it requires a massive information network:
“Everyone has metrics and business intelligence, but very few companies are willing to put that much effort, time, attention, or money into proving to employees that they care. It seems like an odd thing to focus on as a business, but it’s the one that worked for Southwest.”
Kelleher also advises that an organisation should have a simple set of values, for the simple reason that if anyone is proposing something that contradicts those values, the organisation does not need to embark on an extensive study on the proposal, it can simply reject it by saying they don’t do that and move on quickly.
Inspired by the cultural transformation at Southwest Airlines, Resilience& has identified five principles of cultural transformation which can enable an organization to achieve better performance, better customer concentration and an ethical approach.
Align the strategy and culture. Very often it happens that the strategy of an organisation is contradicting its embedded practices and perceptions of its culture, and the decision makers may sometimes underestimate the need of such alignment. Harvard Business Review (HBR) strongly believes that any strategy which is at odds with the culture, is not meant to be a successful one.
Focus on a few important changes in behaviour only and tackle them. HBR believes that the chosen behaviours can be small, as long as they can be broadly recognized and have a good chance of being imitated. It is believed that when a few selected key behaviours are highlighted heavily, the employees will try to reinforce and replicate them.
Give credit to the strengths in the existing culture. As much as people tend to focus on the negative features of the culture in their organisation, it is off outmost importance to acknowledge the existing cultural assets and praise the employees which are already aligned with the company’s strategy and wanted culture.
Incorporate formal & informal interventions. HBR recommends that as organizations are promoting new cultural behaviours, they should incorporate the formal tactics such as new rules and regulations, metrics etc. with formal interactions such as networking, areas and communities of interest and peer interactions.
And finally measure and monitor cultural intervention, and here HBR is highlighting the importance of approaching the measurement process correctly, and including specific behavioural measurements in existing scorecards and evaluation mechanisms rather than creating new systems.
At Resilience& we believe that a successful execution of a growth strategy depends not only on the right talent but also on having a culture which drives high performance. We enable and direct organisations on the right transformational track providing them with the right tools to implement an effective cultural transformation.