SXSW 2010: The future of Corporate culture at Southwest Airlines

‘Our employees are our number 1 customers’. How many CEO’s are saying that about their employees? Many, right? But how many truly live up to those words? In a way that their workers will acknowledge that? “Southwest Airlines”, according to Mallory Messina, Culture Ambassador at Southwest. “In SWA, we do things just a little different. And you’ll notice that in the behavior of all 35,000 employees. Our culture is what distinguishes ourselves from our competitors. SWA trusts us and empowers us.” Openness, transparancy and authenticity are key. Even long before the raise of New Media. The founders of the company have always strived to cherrish and nurture the culture, no matter the number of employees. And most, if not all, says Mallory, feel comfortable in this culture. “We’re happy people, and happy people make happy passengers”. Their out of the ordinary ‘Safety Instructions’ is an example of that.

Mallory brings the story with a lot of passion. For some even a bit over the top (really, is that possible here in the US?), referring to LampaGJ’s tweet: Abandoned Southwest Airlines cheerleadering #beyondbbqs panel for “how not to be a douchebag at sxsw.” But it is effective, cause SWA does have enthusiastic and driven employees, who get rewarded for their efforts and dedication. The core of the culture: ‘A Servant Heart, a Warrior Spirit and a Fun-Luving Attitude’, combined with an Employees Recognition Program. And it seems to work. Not even for the people of SWA, but this dedication seems to also affect their passengers, referring to SWA’a blog, their Facebook page (over 720,000 fans) and their Twitter account (more than 1 million followers). Still, things can go wrong, as it did with Kevin Smith (click here for full story). SWA made an attempt to acknowledge mistakes and be transparent about their policies (here and here), but the event backfired and cost them a number of customers in addition to a lot of negative publicity.

Funny enough, only now SWA is starting to implement Social Media for their internal communications. Very soon they will launch swalife, an internal blog for employees. While many of these employees are already active with the external tools. And surprisingly, without any ‘corporate guidelines’.  “Why hide if people had a bad day at work? Because that still happens at Southwest Airlines”, aldus Mallory.

We had a short interview with Mallory after her talk where she elaborates further on the corporate culture at SWA.

2 Responses to SXSW 2010: The future of Corporate culture at Southwest Airlines

  1. Robin Maiden says:

    Excellent! Great Interview, Rene (Erik too)! Lots of companies could learn from them. With risk there can be reward.

  2. Pingback: Organizational Context: When I least expected « Organizational Context (A.K.A the one at 8:30am)

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