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Southwest Airlines: Culture of Communication

In: Business and Management

Submitted By kminer
Words 1100
Pages 5
Southwest Airlines: Culture of Communication
Kevin Miner
COM 530
December 9, 2013
Patrick Thornton

Abstract

This paper will discuss the culture of communication at Southwest Airlines. Founded in 1971 the company’s culture is based on mutual respect where forward thinking is encouraged and rewarded. All levels of employees have the authority to act for the customer’s best interest without continuously getting approval from above. Employees’ perception of an open minded and supportive workplace is validated by the success the company has enjoyed over the years. Conflicts within Southwest Airlines are resolved through concepts like self-policing, teamwork and mutual respect between managers and employees.

Southwest Airlines: Culture of Communication
Southwest Airlines emerged in 1971 as a low cost alternative to legacy airlines such as United, Delta, and American. When he started Southwest, Herb Kelleher established a culture for employees that encourages and rewards forward thinking. Southwest has excelled from the beginning earning profits in all but its first year (Smith, 2004). Any company, especially one operating throughout many different regions of the country needs to have efficient communication.
Southwest Airlines has successfully created and fostered a communication model with clear goals, values and expectations of respect between its various employee groups ("Southwest airlines one," 2013). In his article, An Evaluation on the corporate culture of Southwest Airlines, Gene Smith describes a company culture that places a high value on “shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect between people and the various functions of an airline (Smith, 2004).” Herb Kelleher started his Southwest in 1971 as a low cost, low frills alternative to larger airlines. The goal was to give people economical transportation between relatively close cities, usually less than 500 miles apart (Smith, 2004). Kelleher is an excellent communicator who has maintained a principle of honest communication with his workers over the years. He routinely returns calls and emails from employees. (Smith, 2004) Kelleher’s honest and open communication style is an integral part of Southwest’s culture that has resulted in an extremely successful company. With the exception of their first year, Southwest continues to be profitable every year (Smith, 2004).
There is a “positive relationship between effective communication and worker productivity (which includes perceived trust, perceived accuracy, desire for interaction, top-management receptiveness and upward information requirements)(Beebe and Masterson, 2009).”
Looking at the historical performance of Southwest, it is apparent that Kelleher knows how to keep a workforce motivated and productive.
A significant challenge of organizational communication for any company is to share the intended ideas, practices and strategies in a manner that the individual worker can readily assimilate. The hard part is to clearly communicate the intended visions so as to prevent an individual’s personal ideas and established thought processes leading him or her to misinterpret the information (Marynissen, 2011). The policies and procedures in a company are in place to provide the best opportunity for success. There will always be misinterpretations but clear lines of communication can reduce the risk of inefficiency and failures by preventing misinterpretation of information as much as possible. The perception of employees at Southwest is that they have a freedom to think for themselves and act in the best interest of the customer without fear of discipline from above. Managers maintain and strengthen that perception. Workers at Southwest are happy. They work to provide a quality product that ensures customers come back. Southwest has received the lowest rate of customer complaints for the past 18 years in large part because of their ability to implement an efficient organizational communication model (Lubens, 2006).
Conflict is present in our personal as well as professional lives. It is inevitable (Beebe and Masterson, 2009). We are not alike as people, which all but guarantees conflicts will arise. Whether conflict serves to further or impede accomplishing the goals of an organization is dependent on how it is handled. In and article discussing organizational conflict, Kenan Spaho describes different types of conflict: vertical conflict, horizontal conflict and role conflict (Spaho, 2013). Understanding the impact conflict can have on the effectiveness of an organization will allow those involved to use it to their benefit (Spaho, 2013). Vertical conflict is prevalent in formal mechanistic structures. One-way communication from a supervisor can lead to micro-management and feelings of being unappreciated on the part of the worker (Spaho, 2013). The culture of teamwork and family utilized at Southwest could serve to minimize this type of conflict. Workers have a level of freedom to act and managers have freedom to handle issues without continuously passing them up the chain of command (Smith, 2004). Horizontal conflicts occur between workers at equal levels. Clear communication of objectives with definitive responsibilities for each individual would help minimize this type of conflict (Spaho, 2013). As mentioned earlier Southwest encourages their employees to think an act as autonomously as possible. This basic concept provides workers with confidence that their individual efforts are recognized and appreciated. Role conflicts develop when a worker does not adequately understand what they are supposed to do. Shortcomings or mistakes are a given without a worker knowing what is required. Specific objectives and competency of effort are imperative. Employees at Southwest have bought in to the culture of teamwork and routinely self-police each other, thus improving the results without always requiring input from above. Mutual respect between managers and workers as well as between those on equal levels would have to make conflict resolution easier. Mutual respect is a cornerstone of the culture at southwest airlines. Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines have developed an enviable culture of clear communication encouraging forward thinking and mutual respect that continues to produce positive results.

Reference

Beebe, S. A., & Masterson, J. T. (2009). Communicating in small groups: Principles and practices. (9 ed., pp. 120-183). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Gene Smith, (2004) "An evaluation of the corporate culture of Southwest Airlines", Measuring Business Excellence, Vol. 8 Iss: 4, pp.26 – 33. http://www.emeraldinsight.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/journals.htm?articleid=84378 4&show=abstract#sthash.0G9XQ2tA.dpuf
Lubans, J. (2006, Summer). Southwest: The unstodgy airline. Library Administration & Management, 20, 142. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/216641009?accountid=458
Marynissen, H. (2011). The relationship between organisational communication and perception. Acta Chirurgica Belgica, 111(4), 193-199.
Southwest airlines one report. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.southwest.com/html/southwest-difference/southwest-citizenship/one- report.html
Spaho, Kenan. Management : Journal of Contemporary Management Issues18.1 (Jun 2013): 103-118.
Walters, J. (1994). Communication: Antidote to conflict. Communication World, 11(9), 35. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/210233272?accountid=458

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