The Human Resources (HR) manager today who fails to examine how a variety of organizations function greatly limits their abilities to improve their own organization. Both failures and successes should be investigated in order to gain awareness of the impacts of HR practices. At the same time, it is arguable that studying a single case of organizational success will serve this purpose, and because such success often exists through discarding weak strategies and taking new directions through consistent learning. The following then presents how Southwest Airlines, a modern story of consistent success, indicates the need for the HR manager to help create an organizational culture empowering and motivating all employees.
Since its 1971 founding, Southwest has enjoyed growth and consistent profitability seen in no other American airline (Lucier, 2004). The ongoing success of the organization is invariably traced back to a core approach within it, and one reinforcing how a business may most effectively apply a learning model; namely, Southwest is dedicated to promoting as positive a corporate culture as possible, which favorably impacts on all employees. Certainly, competition and practical concerns are factors in this approach, particularly as today’s markets are so competitive and no business can afford negative customer treatment. Modern communication emphasizes this reality: “Employees not acting in their customers’ best interest will end up having their actions broadcast over Twitter within minutes” (Solomon, 2012). At the same time, the airline has consistently relied upon its own “evolution,” learning from mistakes and correcting them. For example, Southwest early grasped a critical concept regarding employee training and functions: “Learning outcomes should be related to what is required to successfully perform the job” (Noe, 2010, p. 140). Nonetheless, the airline also understood the importance of each employee’s sense of being necessary to the entire business.
Moreover, CEO Herb Kelleher began Southwest by studying the existing travel markets and learning what was missing in the supply end. For example, other airlines largely relied on the “hub-and-spoke” model, in which destinations require multiple flights and a stop at the airline’s hub location. Kelleher realized that this was unattractive to travelers, so he created a system of only linear flights (Lucier, 2004). As these more practical efforts were undertaken, and guided by what he learned from observing rival airlines, Kelleher fostered a corporate environment completely cooperative, and consequently motivated the employees to contribute in willing and team-centered ways. Another core concept is then reinforced: “To encourage knowledge sharing, companies must recognize and promote employees who learn, teach, and share” (Noe, 2010, p. 208), and the Southwest organizational culture exists today as a model for others. Given the noted success of Southwest, it is difficult for an HR manager to offer ideas for improvement. However, the manager here nonetheless has a great responsibility, in that it often happens that companies enjoying success for years begin to neglect those practices which generated the success. In the case of Southwest, then, the HR manager may improve the organization simply through maintaining the commitment to a positive culture of individual employee empowerment, as well as through careful awareness of any changes in the market or in the workings of the organization itself.
In basic terms, the successful organization is that which learns, and acts based upon the realities learned. From the start, this approach has defined Southwest, and it is a company other airlines would do well to study. Kelleher examined the limitations of air travel, as he also departed from any strictly authoritarian organizational culture, and the efforts have brought their rewards. This in turn emphasizes how the HR manager should be equally impactful and involved in all facets of the business, and because a valuable workforce demands this consistent attention. Ultimately, then, Southwest Airlines, through an unprecedented and consistent rate of success, indicates the need for the HR manager to work in creating the organizational culture empowering and motivating all employees.
- Lucier, C. (1 June 2004). “Herb Kelleher: The Thought Leader Interview.” Retrieved from http://www.strategy-business.com/article/04212?gko=8cb4f
Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee Training and Development, 5th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Solomon, M. (4 Apr. 2012). “What you can learn from Southwest Airlines’ culture.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-small-business/what-you-can-learn-from-southwest-airlines-culture/2012/04/03/gIQAzLVVtS_story.html?utm_term=.bc73b8941ad0