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Southwest Airlines is a company built with heart in mind and with the spirit to fly in his soul. As the late Herb Kelleher famously said, “if you don’t change you die.” I believe Herb built Southwest Airlines on this mantra as he always knew it was headed for greatness. Though, as great as a company can be, there is always room for improvement to make a stellar company even better. In this essay I will discuss how and why Southwest Airlines need some improvements.
Southwest Airlines mission statement is dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit. As an employee, I believe this mindset is within our company every day. Employees exude pure joy while at work and with their dedication to the late Herb Kelleher’s mission, these employees could not imagine being anywhere else. The sense of commitment is uncanny and truly unheard of as all employees are all reaching for the same goal in all different ways.
There is a saying at Southwest that my teammates have learned over their 20+ years with the company: come for the free flights and stay for the LUV. In my three years, I have certainly felt that same LUV and while travelling, am always astonished by the amount of dedication all throughout the country. Southwest Airlines now has 65,000+ employees and we continue to see exponential growth each year. With that growth comes loads of change, physical and emotional, to the operation and at headquarters. For context, in 1967, at the founding of the company, we flew to three Texas cities with three planes in route. Today, we fly 750 aircraft to 100+ cities. This is great growth, but with this growth comes a lot of unknown and many requirements from the company that they may not be quite ready for.
Southwest Airlines is known for having a stellar company culture, colloquially known to have a good time with a lot of parties and a drink or two to celebrate any accomplishment. There are over ten big company celebrations a year, with tons of excitement and company messaging surrounding each. Outward looking, this is a great selling point to future employees as it states that we get the job done and have a ton of fun while doing it. Though this sense of celebration is positive and always seems to keep morale and general happiness high, there are absolute difficulties associated with it.
Emotional imbalance in employees and irregular level of commitment from Southwest Airlines is a major struggle that is affecting all departments. Some companies do not realize how central emotions are to building the right culture and helping the business prosper. There are two sides of the spectrum. First, there are employees that have been with Southwest for a very long time, call all employees a family, offer hugs to everyone and are happy to participate in any and all culture related events because they believe that they have earned it due to their tenure and experience. Then there is the opposite side of the spectrum, the employees that like to come to work, like to complete their tasks on time, who do not mind celebrating, but do not see it as necessary to their job role and can sometimes become uncomfortable. This fact has drawn a big divide in employees as each side has a negative outlook of the other and are not working together to fix it, and more importantly, neither is the company.
Emotions play an important piece at any company, big or small. I believe it is the way that the company handles its part in its employee’s emotions remains the most important piece and can drive a company forward or push it back. With an ever-changing world and workforce, Southwest Airlines must turn to become more inclusive and emotionally respectful towards all employees.
According to Jason A. Colquitt, Jeffery A. Lepine and Michael J. Wesson (2019), emotional intelligence is a set of abilities related to the understanding and use of emotions that affect social functioning. With this definition in mind, this is why Southwest Airlines is beginning down a slippery slope of leaving lots of employees behind. The first stage of emotional intelligence is, self – awareness. This is the understanding of the individuals own emotions, acknowledging them and expressing them in a natural way. Another awareness that plays a role is other awareness, the recognition of emotions in others. These points magnify the main facts of issue at Southwest Airlines and the misinterpretation of these is causing harm and confusion.
In many ways, it seems the two groups of employees that were mentioned before, the longtime employee versus the newly hired, are working against each other. Each employee group has experienced the more difficult, yet influential side of emotional intelligence. Beginning to engage in counterproductive behaviors such as gossiping and harassment is the first point of contention for these two groups, I believe, orchestrated by Southwest Airlines.
There are three parties here all attempting to work together, but in actuality are working against each other. Emotional cultural intelligence refers to the level of effort and persistence an individual exerts when trying to understand and adapt to new cultures. This is the main point for Southwest Airlines as I believe employees are trying to adapt, but have not been given the right resources or the opportunity. In almost all companies, emotional intelligence is not managed at all and companies suffer as a result. I believe for Southwest Airlines to continue to be successful and see growth, emotional intelligence has to become a top priority.
I believe there are three key steps that Southwest Airlines can begin to take to bridge the gap between employees. First, I believe implementing training for all employees based on inclusion. Second, to narrow the number of company sponsored event for employees. Last, I would recommend for all Leaders to sit down with all of their direct reports to have a conversation about their combined needs, both the employee and Southwest Airlines.
Beginning in early 2019, we have implemented Fearlessly Authentic training, four modules built with managing workplace inclusion as top of mind. This training would be built by an outside source and would be required for all leaders, defined as an employee with a direct report, and optional for all employees. This training would be focused on teaching the basics of being able to come together, even with differing opinions, rather than separating. As emotional intelligence is an ability that can be improved through training, I believe this step is crucial in changing the space from negative to positive.
As stated before, culture is a big part of Southwest Airlines. Not to defer from it, but to enhance it, I believe the number of company sponsored events should be limited to four per year. Current date, there are 10 company sponsored events throughout the year, open to all employees with food, drink and transportation included. On both sides of the spectrum, I believe this too many and the events are losing their original meaning and purpose. This promotes a low emotional intelligence from some employees as they feel uncomfortable and out of place and a high emotional intelligence from others as they are in need of more as they feel they deserve it. This limitation will get the best of both worlds, while also cutting costs! I believe this will create a sense of emotional regulation for employees as they will feel comfortable enough to enjoy their accomplishments but not overwhelmed by all of the excitement. For the other employees, are still feeling celebrated and acknowledged, but at a moderated level.
Leadership plays a key role in the level of emotional intelligence for their teams. Leaders have the ability to dictate the general feel of the team and how progression will take place. I challenge all leaders to sit down with each member of the team to have a direct conversation about their likes and dislikes, in accordance with the company. Though this may be as stretch, I believe it will be a good use of emotions for leaders to understand how their team harnesses emotion as it will employ them to improve their chances of being successful (Colquitt et al., 2019). I would also challenge Southwest Airlines to edit their mission statement to become a commitment to employees and from employees. This will clearly dictate where each employee stands in terms of what they are working towards and where the company stands. Creating a clean slate of very directive messaging will reiterate the sense of commitment all around.
As I have said before, Southwest Airlines is a great company to work for and I am proud to call myself a part of the team. I do believe that Southwest Airlines needs to make changes to better manage their employee’s emotions and overall company culture. With these recommendations, I believe the company will continue to prosper and move forward with the upmost care for their employees.
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