I’ve had the opportunity several times in this past month to ride Southwest Airlines and each time it has been a great fun-Luving experience! They have started celebrating their 40th birthday this month and are taking the occasion to reinforce the foundation of their culture and what they are all about. Southwest Airlines started with an idea on a cocktail napkin: cheap flights between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
The two founders were determined to invent their own differentiating crazy culture and decided while their main goal was to fly safely between these three points, they wanted to make the experience FUN for their passengers. They wanted their passengers to feel special and loved, yes, “loved”. So, LUV became the core of their culture and they put a top person in charge of the culture. Colleen Barrett is the airline’s former president and she worked to create a Heartfelt culture. She crafted the tone and spirit that defines Southwest today, from the legendary annual Halloween party to the way a gate agent treats a Customer.
As Southwest flourished, imitators tried to copy the operation and business philosophy: United Shuttle, Continental Lite, Delta Express and US Airways Metro Jet – yet they all failed. Culture can’t be faked. Southwest founders settled disputes by an arm-wrestling match and who would ever think of painting”Free Bags Fly For Free Here” on their plane? If the culture is set from the top, led by the top, sincere, woven into the interview, on-boarding, performance appraisals, and recognition systems – it will be successful. In Southwest’s case, that means 38 years of consecutive profitability!
What kind of culture does your organization have? Have you defined it? As a leader do you promote it, live it and breathe it? Culture beats strategy any day of the year. Happy Birthday Southwest and best wishes for another profitable and FUN 40 years.