Southwest Airlines: Stanford Case

“If you’re comfortable, you’re smiling more and you give btter service”.  It’s amazing that more companies don’t realize this obvious truth.  We do so many things to be politically correct, that we take all the fun out of the 1/3 of our lives that we call our job.  I don’t much care about political correctness.  I mean, we should be polite and cognizant of other people’s feelings, but why do we waste so much time forcing everyone to behave by the same standards?  Is it for the customers? I don’t think so.  Who does it really benefit?  Wouldn’t we be better served by letting people be themselves at work, and allowing them to use their own creativity to differentiate us from our competitors?  This isn’t a rhetorical question, I really would like to know why we can’t have innocent fun at work, instead of the stifling corporate environments that seem to pervade our society.   Obviously you can’t get too carried away, but who says a little innocent fun isn’t just what’s needed in the workplace?  Maybe that’s why we so commonly look back at our high school and college days as the best years of our lives.  It’s because we had fun, and we didn’t waste our time worrying about who is going to be offended by this or that.  It bit us on occasion, but so what.  It was still fun!

So the point of all this is that very few companies really make an attempt to make the workplace fun.  Southwest Airlines is one such company.  The mantra of excellent customer service has been taken to a new level at SWA.  They go out of their way to treat customers like valued partners.  The Stanford case study mentioned one employee taking care of a passenger’s dog for two weeks because the passenger couldn’t take the dog with him on vacation.  WOW!  The employees, whom the airline also views as cusomers, go out of their way to make passengers happy because that is the highest tenant of their coporate culture.  So not only do they value having fun, but the employees make decisions on their own to take care of customers in a real, tangible way.

That really brings me to the thrust of the study.  The corporate culture at SWA is something they view as a corporate asset.  They guard their culture because they know that it’s the key to their continued success.  They do this by hiring the right people based on attitude, and by training their employees in a way that reinforces the culture.  The previous CEO, Herb Kelleher was a large driving force behind this success.  After reading about him in the study and online, it seems to me this guy was one of a kind.  His low pay and “people first” attitude make you admire what he did.  He was wildly successful, but didn’t let it go to his head.  He was the kind of guy you want to work for; one that cares about the person first and the position second.  While he’s since stepped down as CEO, his legacy lives on in the form of SWA’s corporate culture.  His “fun first” mindset and personable outlook have created a great company where people want to work.  I believe it’s keeping employees happy that really differentiates a great company from a run of the mill employer.

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