February 16, 2011

Southwest Airlines: Using Human Resources for Competitive Advantage

Posted in BADM 720 tagged , , , at 3:57 pm by Sarah

This case about the complete saturation of company culture at Southwest Airlines was a very interesting read.  As the text says, companies all over the place say something along the lines of “employees are our greatest asset,” but how often do we see that sentiment put into practice?

I think a major factor in Southwest’s ability to maintain that company culture is that the company started out that way.  To change an existing company over to the kinds of processes that Southwest goes through would be a major overhaul and would upset a lot of people within.  Building a company from the ground up, however, makes it easy for the founders to set whatever precedents they want from the very beginning.

I get the impression from this reading that what makes business sense to other companies simply doesn’t make personal sense to Herb Kelleher.  I know what it’s like to be a victim of the cold corporate mentality, so I can really appreciate someone who bends over backwards for his employees, business be hanged.  He seems to understand that employees are people, not robots, and has gotten excellent work out of them by making them happy.

Southwest’s situation does seem impossible when viewed from within an average company, but this case shows how they’ve done it, and it all makes a lot of sense.  The part I’m not sure about is how this is supposed to help the average manager.  How could my manager, for example, ever hope to instill these things throughout our global company?  It would take a huge revolution, and I’m willing to bet he wouldn’t keep his job long enough to make it happen.  Rather than being inspirational, Southwest’s story serves as a reminder to the average worker that most of us are just cogs in the machine.