Southwest Airlines: What a Meaningful Company Culture Looks Like
CEO Gary Kelly strives to up the culture-building game at Southwest Airlines. What is so wonderful about Kelly’s ambition is that he already heads a company that leads the industry in customer satisfaction. For years, the airline thrived on developing personable employees who demonstrated emotional intelligence and senses of humor. But Kelly felt it was time to add a touch of the profound. He asked his employees to support a vision of becoming the most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline in the world.
Kelly proposed that one of the ways the company would do this would be through telling stories of how they improved the lives of the customers they touch. An equally important aspect of the new vision is the airline’s new culture-driving statement of purpose, which says, “We exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”
Part of this vision and purpose involves employees learning to connect with the stories of passengers and looking for ways to elevate their lives. The heart behind this commitment is profound. It can even be gut-wrenching.
In looking through the stories of Southwest’s commitment to customer service, I found this one from a woman named Nancy.
She had received the tragic news that her three-year-old grandson in Denver had been murdered by her daughter’s live-in boyfriend. Nancy’s husband, Mark, was on a business trip in Los Angeles at the time. When he heard the news, he wanted to get to his daughter as quickly as possible. He made arrangements to fly with Southwest, but when he got to the airport, the check-in and security lines were so backed up that it seemed he was going to miss the plane. The TSA agents couldn’t have cared less, despite Mark’s attempts to get their assistance. When Mark finally got through all the checkpoints, he ran to the gate, expecting everyone to be gone.
The pilot of his plane and the ticketing agent were waiting for him. They had learned about his situation.
They said, “Are you Mark? We held the plane for you, and we’re so sorry about the loss of your grandson.”
This is what real engagement and a culture that matters looks like. The businesses that we love – all of them have heart. It takes a certain brand of courage to step up to this plate, but everyone involved has a far more memorable story when employers and employees decide to do it.
David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.
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