Assessing Corporate Cultures Of Southwest Airlines

Assessing Corporate Cultures Of Southwest Airlines

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Assessing Corporate Cultures of Southwest Airlines
Team A has chosen to evaluate and assess the cultural atmosphere generated within Southwest Airlines (SWA). The airline started its operation in 1971 by the co-founders, Rollin King and Herb Kelleher, in the humble city of Houston, Texas. SWA was to be an airline that provided shuttle service between the cities of Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas, Texas. Southwest Airlines began with one simple notion: "If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline" (www.SWA.com). Today, SWA flies more than 65 million passengers a year to 59 great cities all across the country, and they do it more than 2,800 times a day (www.southwest.com).

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The company now had a mission on their hands. This mission is, "dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit" (www.SWA.com). The initial president of SWA, Lamar Muse, stated, "He wanted a company committed to the employees and for them to have a stable working environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth." He also wanted the employees above all, "to be provided with the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer" (www.southwest.com). These have been the core ethics established within the company that has made it what it is today.
The current president of SWA, Colleen Barrett, recently dedicated a Southwest plane to "The Spirit of Hope," in memory of the many volunteers that are part of the Ronald McDonald Houses across America. Captain East, pilot of this dedicated aircraft, stated, "we have corporate cultures based on love and family," (www.swa.com) which has been the basis for the corporate work environment and workplace of Southwest airlines. The culture of the airline has been that of compassion, high standards, and making the company the most pleasurable to the working American passenger.
Turn on any television commercial for SWA and you will hear the slogan "You are now free to move about the country." SWA prides itself on its commitment to its customers, its friendly atmosphere, and its willingness to share the same respectful and caring attitude that is shown to its employees with its customers. The slogan, "you are now free to move about the country," leads customers to believe that they will be able to not only fly with ease, but also to book reservations and proceed through all of the steps that are required prior to boarding the plan with ease.
The highly trained and qualified staff effectively accomplishes the ease of service provided by SWA. The spirit that exists throughout SWA empowers its employees to believe in themselves, the service they are providing, the business as a whole, and the customers that they serve. SWA employees, including flight attendants, customer service reps, and baggage handlers, are encouraged to take whatever action they deem necessary to meet customer needs or help fellow workers (Milliman 1999).
The positive spirit and atmosphere that exists throughout SWA is a fundamental piece of a puzzle that begins when employees are first interviewed to become a member of the SWA family. SWA links human spirit and personal performance to training and corporate vision as keys to its success in the aviation industry. Once employees are hired by SWA, they are trained through courses at the University for People, the airline's corporate university (Bruce 1997). This deliberate act of training employees at a company approved and regulated institution helps emphasize both the corporate and consumer goals that make SWA as successful as it is.
SWA provides its employees with a comprehensive benefit package. This package includes rewards such as free airfare and profit sharing. The ability to fly free is considered one of the special rewards offered to the employees of the airline. Profit sharing plan is funded by company contributions to the profit sharing accounts as the company meets its profitability goals that it sets each year (www.southwest.com). The corporate culture of SWA motivates employees through empowerment. This culture also encourages employees to make suggestions that will help create continuous improvements within the company and better serve its customers.
Each month SWA chooses an outstanding employee, named "Star of the Month," to be featured in their company magazine Spirit. The article opens with the employee's brief background and current position at the airline and includes a couple of quotes from the employee and the employee's coworkers. The articles consistently focus on how much the featured employees enjoy working for the company.
SWA is built around a spiritual and fun culture, and has many stories that start with the CEO, Herb Kellher. This CEO has been known to help flight attendants serve drinks and peanuts (Molloy, 1996), sing at company picnics, wear costumes on holidays, play pranks, and belt out rap songs at press conferences (Levering, R. and Moskowitz, 1993). There are many stories or myths about what Southwest employees have done to please their customers. For example, an employee drove a customer to his destination when a flight was missed. While every company has stories like this, it appears that it happens on a much more regular basis with Southwest Airlines (Milliman, J. & Ferguson, J. 1999).
SWA has a distinct order of management and style. For the most part it is a relaxed and fun atmosphere. Upper management encourages individuality to the point that there is not even a dress code enforced (Tripp 2000). SWA encourages its employees to be included in decision-making and ideas. Leadership is a quality and behavior that SWA wants of all of its employees and uses it to maximize the benefits and happiness of customers and employees alike. By encouraging this behavior and/or personality trait SWA has become an employer of choice for many (Tripp 2000). The employees feel like they contribute in a meaningful way and are able to enjoy themselves and their work in the process.
In dealing with problems or conflicts that arise within the company, SWA realizes that such events will happen and "accepts failure as a natural and forgivable occurrence" (Bunz 1998). Employees are treated with respect and are taught by trial and error. Each day brings a new set of challenges for employees to conquer and come out on top. The popularity of the show "Airline" on A&E has introduced a whole new crop of potential employees to the inner workings of SWA. The show projects a lively and fun atmosphere to work in and many situations call for teamwork and brainstorming to satisfy the customers.
The methods for making reservations that is used by plays a large part in the success the company. SWA only takes reservations with through the Internet. This method of securing reservations reduces the cost of using ticket counter employees and increases the time efficiency and organization of the company. Many other companies use the old conventional methods of accepting reservations along with Internet reservations. These companies may make reservations for customers through both the Internet and call centres or only may use the traditional call centre alone. As a result of SWA focusing on using the Internet as its primary method of reservations, this method saves the both the customer and airline money and time. Traditional airline companies receive the majority of reservations from call-ins while low-cost airlines have a stronger focus on online reservations.
Many airlines rent their resources, including the airplanes it uses, to fly passengers from place to place. Southwest Airlines chooses to buy its commercial airplanes form one manufacture. This allows them to decrease operational expenses in many ways and also reduces the maintenance and repair costs that many airlines would normally be paying to keep the planes operational. Southwest Airlines currently operates approximately 364 Boeing 737 jets (as of April 18, 2002) and with such a high number of commercial jets, plane maintenance and repairs costs occur on a continuous basis (Southwest Airlines, February 4, 2005). By using one manufacturer as its primary supplier of the planes that are used reduces the need for extensive customer support, increased maintenance, airplane monitoring, training, modifications, fleet management, as well as drastically reducing the cost of training.
The amount of time planes spend on the ground at airports greatly influences an airlines profit. SWA conducted ongoing studies on the amount of time that their planes spend on the ground changing fuel, unloading luggage, loading new luggage, changing food carts, switching crew, performing flight checks, cleaning the plane, and other typical routines. By closely evaluating the operations, SWA has trimmed the time it takes to perform the ground duties down to 15 to 20 minutes where other airlines take an average of 45 minutes (Southwest Airlines, February 4, 2005). This puts the planes back in the air more rapidly therefore leading to profits for the company and making them highly competitive in the arena of airline companies. Since SWA also has the shortest taxi-in time (time from landing to arriving at the gate) with 3 minutes and 40 seconds, the airline is able to increase profits, punctuality, and provide better customer service than other airlines because the customers are not frustrated by unnecessary delays.
The airline industry is very challenging with the cost of fuel at today's prices. In order for a company to succeed in this industry, cost reductions are often made to regain market share. Many airlines are currently reducing costs significantly by implementing several cost reduction strategies. These reductions include reductions in overhead, reductions in management positions, reductions in administrative and clerical payroll, reductions in paid overtime, a reduction in advertising, and the elimination of certain other expenses are allowing this airline to improve their financial conditions in the current slump of flying demand (Southwest Airlines 1999). Deferred hiring is also taking place and until the airline industry is confident that conditions will improve; executing such reductions offsets the chance of large losses.
The airline industry is very labor intensive. The level of service and success of the airline is directly related to the quality of the people working for the airline. SWA focuses on selecting employees that fit the needs of the airline and training them to perform their jobs confidently and successfully. The interviewing process is used to find people with the appropriate sense of humor and attitude.
Once employees are hired that fit the requirements of SWA, these employees are trained within each of the areas that they will be working within. Training includes specialized courses for each discipline as well as customer care training.
SWA was established with the goals of maintaining exceptional employee satisfaction and customer service. Over the years, these goals have not only been maintained but have also reinforced the excellent reputation that SWA has today. As a result of their continued attention to detail, SWA is definitely an excellent example of how a positive corporate culture benefits not only the overall success of the company, but also of its patrons and employees.


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