Managing people at work Essay Example

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Case Study: Southwest Airlines

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Executive Summary

Southwest Airlines, one of the most successful airlines providing low-cost services, takes great pride in their ability to offer a high level of customer service as a low price.

Beginning in 1971 with just three planes serving three cities, Southwest has grown to utilizing 541 aircrafts throughout 69 cities (, 2014). Regarding domestic passengers in the United States, the airline is considered to be the largest carrier since September 2009, and has continually shown profits for 37 years straight (, 2014). Cofounder and previous CEO Herb Kelleher is known to be a tremendous part of the success seen with this company. Current CEO, Chairman of the Board, and President of Southwest is Gary Kelly. We start with exploring the organizational culture aspects of Southwest.

The organizational culture at Southwest is seen as one that rightly encourages and motivates employees to dream up creative ideas and engage in innovational thinking to better the overall operations of the company and not individual circumstances (BrandKeys, 2004). The lack of explicit rules and high power distances effectively allows the company to obtain a unique culture; one that focuses on customer satisfaction as well as employee happiness. However, such a relaxed atmosphere would require employees to clearly understand the direct goals and objectives of their employment (Cook & Macaulay, 2007). This means management must insist on using common sense regarding the customer’s satisfaction and how far one can go to achieve it. Next, we see how the goals and objectives of Southwest have led to their success.

Describe the organizational culture of Southwest Airlines

An organization culture constitutes shared or taken for granted assumptions which a group holds and which determines how it reacts or thinks of its surrounding environment. Therefore, the culture of an organization is passed down to new employees through socialization and the organization culture affects how people work and it operates at different levels (Gomez-Mejia, Balkin & Cardy, 2007).

The unique corporate culture of the Southwest airline emphasizes on employees as the “first customers “and the passengers as the second and the airline endeavors to give each customer a unique and a fun experience in the airline. The attendants are allowed to say anything over the telecom and they often hold humorous contests with the passengers including a free trip anywhere in Southwest to the first passenger to issue a socks with holes. All employees are involved in the airline’s activities as seen by the act of Mr Kelleher holding a barbeque at 2.00 am in the morning so as to include the mechanics who instead would have missed on the company’s picnics due to the timing. All employees participate in these activities as also several pilots are seen to serve as chefs for the picnic (, (n.d.).

The culture of the airline has evolved from the era which flight attendants used to wear hot pants and was based in the southwestern part of USA to a culture of sharing goals, knowledge, as well as mutual respect in the organization. There is also the culture of creativity, humor and service delivery in the organization. Employees have been allowed to work on pajamas and there are rocking chairs throughout the building in the event of impromptu meetings and also for relieving stress while on the job (Smith, 2004). The employees are encourage to nurture a fun environment with the customers and thus the organization has encouraged the employees to have self confidence so that they are able to reach out to the customers and share out their sense of humor and fun.

What role does the organizational culture play at Southwest Airlines?

The organizational culture in Southwest airlines gives its members an identity. This is because the airline is identified as a fun place to work in as it known to value employee satisfaction. Also the employees get to earn part of the company profits and they feel a sense of belonging. Kelleher, the executive chairman emphasizes that employees come first and understands that a satisfied employee will take good care of the customers (Stein, 2000).

The airline’s culture helps in facilitation of a collective commitment as guided by the airline’s mission which states “is dedication to the highest quality of customer service which is delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride as well as the company’s spirit. This has brought together the employees of the southwest airlines to have a commitment to work towards that mission. Also, the culture promotes social system stability. Social system stability relates to the extent to which a work environment is perceived to be positive and reinforcing and also the extent which change and conflict are managed (Wilson, 1999). This is evident in southwest as it is known to having fun activities such as parties and celebrating as a budget is allocated for these fun activities in every city the company operates in. Employees are motivated through performance based awards as well as service awards and this enables the company to have the lowest turnovers in the airline industry. The airline is also on record for employing over 1,000 married couples. Finally, the airline’s culture shapes the behavior of its members by helping them mke sense out of their surroundings. This way, employees are able to understand why the organization has taken various actions and its intension to accomplish its long term goals. Therefore, employees understand that their exceptional performance is needed I even controlling costs so that they are able to gain a competitive advantage against their competitors. In turn, outstanding performance and customer service is awarded by use of performance based awards as well as sharing the company’s profits with the employees (BrandKeys, 2004).

How is the organizational culture created, reinforced, and perpetuated at Southwest Airlines

The airline values people and Kelleher believes that trust is not gained by laying off workers but instead it results to lack of loyalty as well as the workers being insecure. The airline pays its pilots per trip rather than per hour and thus the pilots are motivated to work for longer hours than employees in the other airlines. The airline also contributes 15% of the airline’s pretax profits to its employees profit sharing plans. The airline has created an operational independence for the employees and by treating their employees first, this has been their key to success. Southwest’s culture is reinforced by the types of communications which exist in the company. The airline believes in timely and frequent communications as well as a type of a communication which is problem solving (Knol, (n.d.). There is also the information system which is based on emails through which Mr Kelleher and the management communicates to their people and the reverse is true. The teamwork among the employees of the airline has gone along way in reinforcing the culture of the organization and finally, Mr Kelleher does not believe in laying off the workers and even during the hard times, the employees of the outhwest airline were willing to take pay cuts so as to avoid lay offs and this salvaged people’s jobs as compared to other airlines which laid off their workers (, (n.d.).

This organization culture is perpetuated by the commitment employees have and their motivation to work together towards a common goal. For example, flight crews and gate agents clean the planes together with the maintenance department members as they have an agreed turnaround time of 15 minutes. Due to the team work among employees, the organization does not have rigid work rules as compared to their competitors. Therefore, people from all departments must work together as the organization encourages teams measurement rather than individual performance metrics. Finally, Southwest has a relaxed and a pleasing working environment through an informal hierarchy system which encourages the people to air out their ideas on how to improve the airline and in return, the management accepts and improves as advised (Smith, 2004)

Identifying the key symbols in Southwest Airlines’ official website, analyze how do they convey its cultural values?

Southwest Airlines is known to be a low cost airline and this is seen by the label on it website “ On Southwest, Bags are Free.” Therefore passengers do not pay for their luggage while using this airline (Stein, 2000). There is also the southwest gift card through which the airline rewards its customers through. The airline offers discounts to its customers as it is displayed on the website. Some of the displayed discounts include: Earn double points at MGM Resorts+ special dining extras. Therefore, their customers are able to plan for their trips and even on where the hotels they will stay in while on travel. To improve its performance, the airline has made it possible for the customers to access online the flight status for the customers as well as offers flexibility for those customers who wish to either check in or change their flights (, 2014).

The airline has a flexible and a convenient booking service through the earlybird check in where customers are able to choose their boarding passes even hours before their flight therefore improving the seating position of their customers (Smith, 2004).


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reward and recognition of employees can improve your service levels. Retrieved online,

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Gomez-Mejia, L. R., Balkin, D. B., & Cardy, R. L. (2007). Managing Human Resources (5th

ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Knol, J. (n.d.). Southwest Airlines from an organizational perspective. Aerlines Magazine.

Retrieved from (2014, May 27). Southwest Airlines fact sheet. Retrieved from (n.d.). Southwest cares. Retrieved from

Smith, G. (2004). An evaluation of the corporate culture of Southwest Airlines. Measuring Business Excellence, 8(4), 26. Retrieved from harris/606/Readings/Smith2004.pdf

Stein, N. (2000). Winning the war to keep top talent. Fortune, 141(11), 132 – 136.

Wilson, T. B. (1999). Rewards that drive high performance. Retrieved online May 27,2014,