Monday, May 10, 2010

Fun on Southwest Airlines

Cutlural change, or how people think, act and interact, is the key to ongoing business continuous improvement and ultimately business success. It took the lean community some years to understand and accept the fact that implementing lean tools was not the end goal. The tools were only the means with which you could access and impact the culture. During the last week of April, for the first time in over ten years, I flew on Southwest Airlines and I was impressed.

The biggest difference between this flight and all of others flights I have taken (mostly on an airline with the the initials AA) in the last ten years is that each and every Southwest employee acted as if work was fun and customers were important. Can you believe that! I hadn't seen so many smiles since watching a Miss America pagent.

“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.” This mission statement gives every Southwest employee approval to be a change agent and a risk taker so that they can impact the culture, if only for a few hours, on the plane where they are working. For example, just prior to take-off the flight attendants were asking everyone to take their seats. One older gentleman, whose head was shaved, remained standing and talking with some aquaintances. Over the intercom came a message - "Would the spokesperson for Six-Flags (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU2yt6wOoK0) please take your seat?" Everyone on the plane laughed and then the flight attendant, himself as bald as the Six-flags mascot, approach the individual to ensure he had not personally offended him. Then at the end of the flight they played the Six-Flag's theme song from the same commercial over the intercom as they bid him and all their customers fairwell! As I departed I felt like I had been at a party! The flight attendants, by taking some risks, had created an atmosphere of fun and a sense of community all during a 2-1/2 hour flight. Adding to my joy were the "free" snacks, a glass of chardonnay and the fact that my bag flew free. I will be flying Soutwest more often - sorry AA!

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