Friday, October 16, 2009

Southwest Airlines - Lessons in Employee Engagement

My First Flight on Southwest Airlines - Lessons in Employee Engagement
Posted Friday, September 4, 2009 by Mark Harbeke

For a series of meetings this week back at our Chicago HQ, I flew on Southwest Airlines for the first time ever. While it was a little weird to choose your own seat, I think it actually made for a better flight experience because it got people talking to each other a little more than usually happens.
When a passenger dropped her water bottle and it slid back several rows, I don't think there would have been nearly as many smiles among people passing it back up to her (including yours truly) as there were if the airline didn't set a casual, "it's just air travel, folks" attitude from the get-go.
But really making the difference were Southwest's caring, exuberant flight crew. Attendants did more checks on passengers on the first leg of my roundtrip flight than I've seen them do on multiple roundtrips on other carriers. On arrival at Chicago Midway Airport the captain even joked, "Don't forget any of your belongings, including husbands and wives."
How does Southwest get seemingly more commitment out of their employees than do other airlines? Colleen Barrett, their President Emeritus who still works closely with the Texas-based company on employee development strategies, told us it boils down to two things: creating a culture of ownership and hiring people who are servant leaders.
My flight back to Los Angeles was further enriched by Southwest's in-house magazine, Spirit. Their September issue just so happens to feature a lengthy cover story on entrepreneurship. Two highlighted small business facts in particular stood out to me:
Average years a small business survives: 11.2
Average annual revenue of a small business: $3.6 million
As I've noted here before, our Top Small Workplaces, which use employee engagement best practices as a means to improve business metrics, leave these stats in the dust (or maybe, in keeping with the theme here, on the ground):
Average years a Top Small Workplace (2008) survives: 42
Average annual revenue of a Top Small Workplace (2008): $36 million

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