The website for Southwest Airlines states “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit” (Southwest Cares: Doing the Right Thing, para. 2). Southwest continues to excel in customer service, employee development, and profitability. Southwest has the fewest customer complaints of any major airline, an employee turnover ratio of less than 10 percent, and has shown a profit each year it has been in existence (D’Aurizio, 2008).
Southwest’s excellent customer service record relates directly to the warm, friendly assistance delivered by employees. Management at Southwest has built a culture of treating employees as family and expects them to treat customers like family as well. Before employment, the company showers new hires with parties and welcome celebrations. Training is available so that employees have the chance to advance within the company (D’Aurizio, 2008). All employees at every level, from the CEO to the janitors, receive stock options. This creates a culture of ownership mentality, which motivates employees to keep profits up by delivering exceptional customer service (Holstein, 2008).
According to Laurens and Budinich (2008), the culture built by co-founder and former CEO Herb Kelleher is the secret to the success of Southwest. This culture “develop(s) and integrate(s) a dedicated and motivated workforce” (p. 30) that succeeds together. Kelleher led by example, treating his employees like family, and open communication played a vital role in forming this unique culture. The company’s culture is embedded in employees from the first interview. Events in the lives of employees are acknowledged and celebrated by everyone. The company establishes special programs for families of employees. The company listens to comments and feedback, not only from employees, but also employees’ families, customers, and vendors (D’Aurizio, 2008). By putting into practice the philosophy of open communication, Southwest has managed to foster a culture that has made it a profitable organization.
Communication plays a vital role in organizational culture and employees’ perception of that culture. The website Reference for Business (2009) contends that message receivers use perception to make sense out of a message and to determine the message’s meaning. With perception, the receiver makes sense out of a message based on experience (Reference for Business, 2009). No person sees experiences exactly the same as another. Each has a unique set of experiences, a unique perceptual “filter,” through which he or she interprets messages. Making up this filter is the unique blend of childhood background, teaching, and the life experiences of the perceiver. In communication, each message receiver uses that filter to make sense out of the experience (Reference for Business, 2009).
The challenge in organizational communication is enabling employees to comprehend messages ways intended. Friedman, Liu, Parks, and Simons (2007) argue that this communication includes the perceived match between adopted values and enacted values and the extent to which promises are kept. Effective communication relates to trust in managers and organizational commitment. Communication and commitment relates to employee retention, customer service, and company profitability (Friedman et al., 2007). Misaligned perceptions can lead to communication barriers and can ultimately lead to the breakdown of an organization’s cultural values.
During organizational communication, conflict will invariably arise. According to Beebe and Masterson, “conflict in a group occurs when members disagree over two or more options that a group can take in trying to make a decision, resolve a problem, or achieve a goal” (Chapter 7, p. 169). Conflict can also occur when differences in goals exist. However, contrary to popular belief, conflict should not always be avoided. Some conflict naturally occurs as a result of communication because all group members will not share the same values, beliefs, or attitudes (Beebe & Masterson, 2006). Conflict can be used in a positive manner. Southwest Airlines could use conflict to challenge group members to further research different ideas for resolutions to problems. For example, additional research could be used to determine if additional routes would be cost-effective or if dropping certain routes would cut costs.
Southwest Airlines commitment to a culture that promotes employee empowerment has made the airline one of the most profitable airlines today. Open communication and in-house advancement encourages a positive perception of company culture. It also allows employees the opportunity to express ideas and believe themselves a part of the Southwest “family”.
Beebe, S. A., & Masterson, J. T. (2006). Communicating in Small Groups: Principles and Practices (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
D’Aurizio, P. (2008). Southwest Airlines: Lessons in Loyalty. Nursing Economics, 26(6), 389-392.
Holstein, W. J. (2008, February). At Southwest, the Culture Drives Success. BusinessWeek, 28-30.
Laurens, E., & Budinich, D. (2008). The Power of Integrated Leadership. Banking Solutions, 30-31.
Simons, T., Friedman, R., Liu, L. A., & Parks, J. M. (2007). Behavioral Integrity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(3), 650-665.
Southwest Airlines. (2009). Southwest Cares: Doing the Right Thing. Retrieved from http://www.southwest.com
Waltman, J. L. (2009). Reference for Business. Enclyclopedia of Business. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopediaofbusiness.com