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Southwest Airlines - Spreading the Luv

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Autor:   •  April 27, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  3,358 Words (14 Pages)  •  1,116 Views

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Southwest Airlines: Spreading the LUV

There is no question that Southwest Airlines is a phenomenon in the airline industry and an icon in the business world. No other U.S. airline has come close to matching their history of profitability. Business leaders and academics alike strive to understand what makes this company so different from its competitors while many attempt to mimic their success. Using our newly developed perspectives on organizational behavior, we have examined Southwest Airlines through a selection of the psychology, communication and leadership frameworks we have studied throughout this quarter.

There are many reasons Southwest has risen well above its peers. From the trademark "one-liners" that come from the cockpit to the unconventional uniforms and costumes, this is an airline that prefers to color "outside the lines." Employees, hired for their attitudes, become part of a family that nurtures their self-esteem and satisfies many of their innate human needs. Southwest practices open communication with its "family members", resulting in unusually favorable relations with its labor unions. Lastly, this is a company of leaders being led by leaders of all styles as embodied by the captivating style of the company's founding president and CEO, Herb Kelleher.

Each of these aspects sets this company apart from other airlines, and has contributed to its unbelievable success. As a result of this analysis, we will provide an explanation of how a company that puts customers second can be so wildly successful, and highlight the importance of understanding organizational behavior.


Hiring for Attitude

While most companies have a Human Resources or Personnel department, Southwest depends on its "People" department to select the right people to fill the Southwest uniform.

In the book Nuts, the authors conclude that Southwest hires for attitude and trains for skills (Freiburg, 1998). In this book, Kelleher is quoted commenting on the type of person the company recruits:

"We look for attitudes; people with a sense of humor who don't take themselves too seriously. We'll train you on whatever it is you have to do, but the one thing that Southwest cannot change in people is inherent attitudes" (Freiberg, 1998)

This is an area in which Southwest just will not compromise. There is a firm belief at SWA that the company is defined by its people, and they go to great lengths to ensure they are hiring employees who fit the Southwest mold.

In Chapter 5 of our textbook, we were presented with "The Big-five Personality Dimensions." Based on our research, we began to see a picture emerge of the personality of a typical SWA employee and chose to measure them along these dimensions. (Champoux, 2006)

High in Extroversion- Talkative, active, sociable, assertive, gregarious

High in Emotional stability- Calm, relaxed, secure

High in Agreeableness- Cooperative, tolerant good natured, courteous, caring

High in Conscientiousness- Dependable, organized, responsible, hard-working

High in Openness to Experience- Curious, intelligent, creative, imaginative

Southwest has defined the type of personality they desire, and they work hard to find employees who exhibit these personality traits. The benefit of hiring for personality or attitude is that this is more difficult for a candidate to hide or play a role in an interview. In a story related in the book Nuts, a highly decorated military pilot applied to the flight department. While traveling to Dallas on Southwest for his interview, the pilot was rude to the customer service agent and cold and arrogant when he arrived and spoke to the receptionist. Despite his excellent resume and decorated flight record, his attitude was simply not a fit for the company, and he was quickly dismissed. This is a clear example of how attitude trumps skill in SWA hiring practices.

Self Esteem

Southwest Airlines has done an excellent job promoting employee self-esteem. A company will receive huge benefits by taking time to focus on improving employee self-esteem. An individual's low self-esteem results in low confidence and negative feelings, which will eventually overwhelm the individual. These negative feelings will affect the individual's quality of work, productivity and overall health.

There are two needs that fulfill a person's self-esteem. The first is a sense of belonging or love. The second need is territory or a person's individuality. Individuality is what separates a person from the herd. It focuses on the individual's ethics, morals and spirit.

A person can relate these needs to the self-esteem sausage. The self-esteem sausage is made up of two parts. One half is love and the other half is individuality. In order to have a healthy self-esteem, a person must have a full sausage with both ends well-balanced.

Southwest airlines focuses on keeping its employees' self-esteem sausages balanced. In order to keep the love half in balance, the company focuses on creating a home or family within the organization. Employees are not afraid to hug each other. Instead of handshakes, introductions are done with hugs (Culberson, 2004). Southwest Airlines is not afraid to talk to their employees with emotion and tell them that the company loves them and wants to make sure they are happy. The company's goal is to have employees retire and tell their grandchildren that working at Southwest Airlines was one of the finest experiences they ever had and that it helped them grow beyond anything they thought possible (Kelleher, 1997). Southwest Airlines number one priority is their people. This strong focus on their people and creating an atmosphere that focuses on love helps fulfill the employee's need for belongingness.

Southwest Airlines also makes sure to promote employee individuality. The company's core values focus around fulfilling an employee's need for individuality. Some of these values include; individuality, ownership, fun, family and equalitarianism (Freiberg, 1998). The company promotes uniqueness through letting employees be themselves when they come to work. The company doesn't want the employees to have to change their personality and become extremely formal or conservative in the work environment. Southwest Airlines also creates a fun environment for its employees. The company prides itself on practical jokes among


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