Posted by: A.R. Cherian | September 24, 2009

Please Your Employees First


A lot has been written about the leadership style and company culture at Southwest Airlines over the years. I just read a Stanford Business School case study on a key aspect of what makes Southwest so successful – its human resources (or as they call it, the People Department).

Work is important…don’t spoil it with seriousness
-Southwest company mantra

Southwest has always been about being different than the industry norms ever since the beginning. Employees are regarded as internal customers at Southwest. They are an employee-focused business and it shows. They have created a corporate culture of employees who are compelled to go above the call of duty and work for the same goals.   They have created a fun and comfortable place to work. Satisfied and comfortable employees work better and produce better results. They have fun and in turn the customers have fun.

If you’re comfortable, you’re smiling more and you give better service. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out
– Colleen Barret, Southwest VP of Customers

I agree. It’s not complicated rocket science, so why can’t many leaders figure this out and put it into practice? A lot of it is just using plain common sense and figuring out that you should treat your employees the way you want to be treated. We’ve probably all heard of (or worked for) companies that don’t feel this is a priority or just give it lip service. If you’re serious about it, then you will work hard to foster it and maintain it as the Southwest leadership has done.

We hire great attitudes. If you don’t have a good attitude, we don’t want you, no matter how skilled you are. We can change skill levels through training. We can’t change attitude.
– Herb Kelleher, CEO Southwest Airlines

What they’re really hiring for are good personalities. Southwest believes a company is only as good as its people. They believe fit is more important than credentials and even experience. The company hires very few MBA’s and even those that are hired, are hired because of their attitude and fit with the company.

One of the core competencies of Southwest is managing human resources. They hire people with good attitudes and please them with a great work environment. This is very hard for many of its competitors to imitate for many different reasons. Many have tried and failed. It’s not easy and requires a lot of business trade-offs and sacrifices that some of its larger competitors are not willing to do.

I think we should all appreciate a good leadership team that is committed to pleasing the people that work for them. The employees will then in turn please the customers – leading to real top line growth. Thanks Southwest for raising the bar and not just paying lip service to this great idea or just making it another business cliché.

Bottom line: If you want to please your customers, please your employees first and make that a system in your organization.


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