Long before airlines were charging for the oxygen on their plane, Southwest Airlines, no Herb Kelleher had an idea – let’s make flying affordable, and while we’re at it fun and friendly. And let’s not make the latter two, an edict. Let’s just treat our employees really well – in fact let’s focus more on our employees than we do our customers – then the employees, naturally in turn, will give everyone awesome service and an awesome experience, and the customers will return, etc. etc.
(Later SWA transformed Chicago’s Midway Airport from a ghost town to their largest hub operating 34 of the 43 gates, with 234 daily departures.)
This whole lower fare thing was something the competition was not going to take sitting down. He was going up against some big guns, particularly in Dallas, American Airlines. (As I’m writing this commentary, I happen to be on an American Airlines’ flight. And, so as not to put any voodoo on this plane, I’ll confine my comments to the brilliance, moxy and love of Mr. Kelleher and do my best not to compare.)
It was not an easy beginning for them. There were all kinds of legal battles around airports and borders and still they thought themselves equipped to stay the course, going all the way to the US Supreme Court and Texas Supreme Court. They won and after this four-year fight, the first Southwest Airline flight was taking off.
Or, I could just throw around two financial stats that no other carrier can claim: 1. SWA has made a
profit for 46 consecutive years (since inception) and NO employee has ever been furloughed – even
through the Great Depression – not a one.
What I will tell you, is Herb’s Employee First Culture, was sincere and deliberate. This was one time, the trickle-down theory worked. He knew that flying was serious business and safety is ALWAYS first, still he encouraged his staff to keep it light and not take themselves so seriously. That was also his mode of operation. Think back to the first time you were on a Southwest flight and the attendants cracked a joke on the loud speaker. Or when you called Southwest and you knew the person on the other end really liked what they were doing. There wasn’t a stressed-out or impatient syllable muttered – they were down to earth and authentically friendly and helpful.
Being on the Board of the Press Club of Dallas, I had many opportunities to hear Herb speak, to watch his playfulness spill over into any event he was at, and to repeatedly quote his wisdom and wit as a financial commentator for NPR’s “Marketplace.” His joie de vivre was contagious,
and most of all he LUVED his employees.
Kelleher knew that without dedicated employees, he was just another CEO with a large company. And every other CEO knew he was special as he was constantly bestowed the coveted title of The Most Admired CEO. He sincerely loved his employees, and they loved him. So did I.
Once upon a time, there was a year dominated by turmoil – where groups were pit against groups and fear was being instilled everywhere – anti-immigrants against immigrants, cops against blacks – unfortunately the list is endless.
Then came an event that shook the world from China to Chile to Poughkeepsie and beyond. People from all walks of life put fear and the election on hold and bonded while they sat in front of their TV or radio.
You’re a business owner, HR executive, CEO, COO, manager, etc. and you’re completely perplexed on how you can stop this revolving door of millennials coming in and going out of your business.
You’ve supplied the kitchen, with 27 different cereals, nut mixes, candy bars, protein drinks and gluten free whatever. In fact the boardroom has been completely transformed and the only reason why you still call it “The Boardroom” is because of the wide array of board games millennials can play on their breaks. (Yes, you did your homework; according to The GBrief , the website ALL about millennials, “they love their board games” The GBrief – millennials and their board games) And still you haven’t found a way to get them to stay.
How to identify if you really have a customer-centric business.
I’m sure if I was to call 50 companies right now and ask if they were a customer-centric business, they would all say “yes.” Isn’t that why we’re all in business – to be of service to our customers? The happier (we’ll define happy in a future article) they are the more business we have. On paper,yes. In the board room, maybe. In your cubicles, not quite.
Now’s the time to be jolly and generous with our words.
“You’re great!” “Happy you’re on the team!” “Good work this year” Waiting until you hand someone their bonus check (you are giving one, right?) or slur some kind word at the Holiday Party, is not going to cut it. It’s empty and insincere. It won’t endear me to be vested in you or your goals. That said, if you choose to follow a few simple truths and a couple of rules, the organization and you the leader, will reap rewards beyond those you are sharing.
Let’s begin with the premise that things are always changing.
So, you’ve got an idea that you think may solve the challenges of your department. Or you’ve got something in your gut that says write the book. Or maybe your hand and your heart wants you to finally pick up the canvas or guitar that’s sitting in the back of your closet.
And oh, how you fantasize about how your little idea propelled big profits for your organization. And those luscious daydreams of how your book, your writing, touched people enough to tell all their friends about it. And no doubt about it, once you pull out the canvas and brush, the art will flow and your kids will fight about who gets to hang that gem in their room. All so perfect.