Organizational Identity: Company and Employee Promises
As I think about promises and what they mean to me, I’m taken back to my time in the Army. In the military, a promise is a sacred bond that we honor with our lives. It’s a commitment to serve, protect, and defend, no matter the cost. And I carry that thinking with me every day.
When we make a promise, we are creating a bond of trust with those around us. We are saying that we are going to do what we say we are going to do, that we are reliable and dependable, and that we value the people to whom we are making the promise. Promises can also offer a beacon of hope—a guiding light that can help us navigate through the ups and downs of life.
That has never been truer than when we faced one of the toughest challenges in our history during the operational disruption this past December, when we couldn’t live up to the promises we made to our Customers or to our Employees.
As a Company, we promise to provide our Customers with affordable fares and one-of-a-kind Southwest Hospitality, while giving our Employees a stable work environment grounded in kindness, respect, and compassion. As a Leader, I take that as a personal mission, to make sure we’re holding up our end of the bargain and delivering on our commitments.
Inevitably, there will be times when promises are hard to keep, when goals and relationships are tested. But in those moments, if we keep working to honor our word and make things right after a promise is broken, many times we can foster greater trust and build even stronger relationships.
Our Company and Employee Promises will always be our North Star—helping us learn from and move past what happened in December, continually improve our operation, take better care of our People, and strengthen our brand. And they will continue to drive us as they have for more than 51 years.
For me, I will never stop pushing myself to deliver on my own promises as well as our Company’s. Each day, I ask myself—and I encourage you to ask yourself—am I keeping my promises? Am I living up to the oaths I’ve made? How can I contribute, alongside all of our Employees, to strengthen our Culture of trust, loyalty, and accountability?
Chief Operating Officer
Organizational Identity: Vision
On one hand, the word vision seems straightforward – the ability to see. Yet there is so much more to explore when we think about the broader meaning of vision. It is an articulation and visualization of what we want for the future. Vision has certainly been a source of motivation during my career at Southwest Airlines. I have had the opportunity to work in a number of different roles across the Company over the last 23 (and counting) years, but one common thread is always having the desire and passion to look ahead. Having a vision provides focus and encourages intentional, forward movement.
Our stated Vision is “To be the world’s most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline.” No pressure, right? Winning any ONE of these categories is a challenge, but to win all three, simultaneously, is what Southwest Airlines is uniquely qualified to own as OUR Vision. Competitors, ever-evolving technology, regulatory bodies and unprecedented events will always exist; therefore, a relentless devotion to our Vision is a must. It is so much the story of the maverick spirit of Southwest Airlines. It’s what pushes us to look for new and unconventional approaches. Southwest has never shied away from being different. We’ve been “color outside of the lines” thinkers since the very beginning. And unconventional thinking is what it takes to boldly improve, innovate and imagine new ways of providing the best service at the lowest cost.
Our Business Transformation Team works tirelessly on various projects that all start with a “why” and are answered by contemplating “what could be.” Not many people get to witness the power of imagination as consistently as I do. I’m truly grateful. From studying how people move through our spaces and envisioning an airport of the future to leveraging artificial intelligence for improving the Customer experience and predicting the ontime turn of an aircraft. Every step we take is guided by our desire to provide the best experience for our Customers and our People.
In closing, Vision is a guiding principle for any business. It certainly has been for Southwest Airlines as a Company and a Family. I’m proud to work within an organization that is both rich in hindsight and foresight. Challenges and pivots throughout life are inevitable. We have all seen and felt them both personally and professionally, and it’s our Vision that helps us turn the page to the next chapter. Vision gives us a path forward, even during the toughest times. Unpredictable moments will take you places, but your Vision will bring you home.
Vice President Business Transformation
Special Edition LUV Mail – Valentine’s Day 2023
No way around it, Southwest Airlines had a rough go of it after the challenges we faced in December. Since then, we’ve made phenomenal progress in responding internally and externally to recover our operation, and I believe we have turned the proverbial corner. What we want to do more of, now, is shed light on the good. And let me tell you, there has been So. Much. Good.
We want to share this special edition of LUV Mail with our CCBI friends and family to highlight just a few of the many Employees who stepped up and answered the call to help restore our operation. And what better occasion to do so than Valentine’s Day! These heartwarming stories offer a glimpse of the resilience, kindness, and love shown by our People during one of the most difficult times in our history. I hope these stories not only inspire you, as they did me, but also reaffirm that organizational culture thrives by choice and intention. It cannot be manufactured and certainly not mandated. It comes entirely from the Heart.
Senior Vice President Culture & Communications
Pizza Makes Everything Better
Having adequate meal options proved challenging for Customers and Employees during the operational disruption, but our People stepped up to help wherever and whenever they could. This note of appreciation is but one of many “above and beyond” moments that happened across our system.
“Everybody needs to eat. On December 26, one of our Flight Attendants, Danny, met that need in a very real way. Following a tumultuous three days of work, Danny was able to get on a flight from LaGuardia to Houston on December 26. Before going home, he decided to stop by and check on his Cohearts. He learned that 150+ Flight Attendants were stranded in the lounge and had been for quite some time. Rather than just feeling badly for them and going about his evening, he put his Southwest Heart into action.
Danny promptly drove to Academy Sports and bought a wagon. He then continued to Little Caesar’s pizza—ordering 50 pizzas to go. Once Danny was able to make it back to the HOU Base, he ensured everyone in the lounge was fed. But he didn’t stop there. With the pizza he had left over, Danny walked through the HOU airport with his new wagon offering pizza to anybody he came across.
Thank you, Danny, for sharing your huge Heart with all of us!”
Our Hospitality Operations Support Team (HOST), which is responsible for supporting our field Employees with Customer Service initiatives, spearheaded an effort to spread a little internal Hospitality to those who volunteered their service during our recovery. With the help of dozens of Employees, our HOST Team coordinated a banner filled with notes of encouragement for our Customer Support & Services Employees, who received phone calls and worked through “in the moment” issues with our Customers. Our HOST folks further collected handwritten thank you cards for our Cohearts in Network Operations Control (NOC) who worked around the clock to make our Customers whole and help restore our network. Over 750 handwritten cards were organized and attached to a goody bag filled with treats for our Employees. Awesome examples of Cohearts taking care of Cohearts.
LUV Across All Borders
Our disruptions were not limited to the domestic United States. Our friends and Cohearts in our international cities stepped up as well, and our People were grateful.
“Would love to give a special thank you to the Cancun station for their Hospitality today. There were five of us Flight Attendants stuck in the terminal for almost ten hours today, no hotels available, no phone signal. The Cancun station let us hang out in their office and store our bags safely to be a little more comfortable. They shared their wonderful Sunday brunch with us, including some tamales. We even got to help them try out their brand new coffee maker with some Houston coffee that we brought. … Some of the most hard-working and friendly Agents in the system, they even took time to explain to us how the operations software works when receiving or sending flights to/from the United States. Thank you, Cancun, for your Hospitality!”
Bags, Bags, and Bonding
One of the most significant impacts of our operational disruption was the displacement of literally thousands of bags across our system and the monumental task of reuniting them with their owners. It quickly became clear that we needed extraordinary support to get the job done. We issued a call to action for volunteers to cover shifts in over nine different “mega” stations (our largest cities). Our People answered in grand fashion! In addition to the 317 Employees who signed up to volunteer their personal time scanning and sorting thousands of bags, there were countless Cohearts who simply showed up at our airports wanting to help! They jumped in to log, sort, and reunite bags with our Customers. Many of our People, at least 114, signed up for multiple shifts. In our stations, as well, Employees were asked to do cross-over work to help cover our baggage needs. For one of our Ramp Supervisors, it was an eye-opening experience.
“To my BSO [Baggage Service Office] folks everywhere, but especially Phoenix, THANK YOU. … I was told to report to the BSO after five hours already on the clock, and I punched out five hours later. My first real experience was a 10-hour shift in the middle of a complete meltdown. That being said, you all are a group of bad a**es! From the crash course on how not to screw up, to always treating every Passenger like they were an old friend, to letting me know how awesome it was every time I got a Passenger matched with their bag, which I did about 100 times—THANK YOU! Thank you for immediately taking this sweaty Ramp Supervisor as one of your own. And thank you for letting me know where your stash of cookies is—I won’t tell. Y’all are awesome!”
A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way
Although we gave our Customers plenty to be upset about, we have been overwhelmed by the number of positive posts, calls, emails, and letters from folks who recognized the sincerity and hard work of our People. This is but one example of our Customer Support & Services Team going above and beyond:
“We would like to give a shout out to Gina. We’re sure she had taken a ton of calls prior to my daughter, and we are sure many of those calls were from angry Customers that probably did not treat her kindly. However, Gina answered that call with a kind and happy attitude. She said she was terribly sorry that our daughter’s flight had been cancelled. During the next 15 minutes, this rock star Customer Service Representative was able to find our daughter a flight on the 31st. Then she took her Customer Service to the next level… Our daughter has friends that were also stranded during the cancellations. Our daughter asked Gina if she could patch her friend into the call to also get some help. She said absolutely! Then proceeded to help our daughter’s friend. We’re grateful for Gina’s amazing Customer Service!”
Another Nourishing Moment
There are endless incredible examples of how our People took care of one another and our Customers. These sweet notes of gratitude for one of our Pilots are like food for the soul!
“Andrew, I did not work with you however I did bump into you first in the LAS gates as you handed out food you had purchased for our passengers from your cancelled flight. I snapped a quick picture because that true act of kindness on a rough Christmas Eve for so many warmed my heart. Thank you for feeding not only our passengers but your crew AND my crew! If I hadn’t eaten that sandwich I wouldn’t have eaten until toward the end of the day. You were my Champion that day!! Thank you for everything you do!”
“I have to say, we have some of THE MOST AMAZING Cohearts! This Pilot purchased Wendy’s breakfast sandwiches for his entire cancelled flight to Chicago out of Las Vegas. He bought some extras, as well, and handed out more to folks he passed who were stuck in the airport, including my Crew. He greeted passengers face-to-face, listened and apologized. It was so incredibly thoughtful and over and above, and I know that for my Crew, by the end of the day, we had no idea just how much we would appreciate having eaten that sandwich earlier! Props to this First Officer! THANK YOU!”
Family Restoring Family
From late December through January, over 1,700 Headquarters Employees volunteered to work alongside our Customer Experience and Engagement Team to help process restoration cases for our Customers. After undergoing specific procedural and software training, these Employees stepped away from their regular jobs, for multiple shifts, to provide around the clock “all hands on deck” support. Collectively, this army of volunteers logged 36,000 hours processing cases over a five-week span. One of our volunteers shared this about the experience.
“In the face of challenge, I witnessed People come together at every level, regardless of title, to support one another. One Team, All Heart, working hard even with smiles and laughter, to rise above.”
One Of Our Shining Stars
Among the countless displays of perseverance and sheer Heart by our People is this kind compliment from one Coheart to another.
“In the midst of our operations collapse on 12/25, Anthony was a shining star. I was listed for the jumpseat on his flight from Dallas to Columbus. The departure time kept getting pushed back and back and back. Lines were hours long for our Customer Service Agents, we had no clue where we could get a full Crew, but Anthony did everything in his power to get our flight going. He stood on hold with Scheduling, answered endless questions from Passengers, and gave announcements to keep everyone updated. He attempted multiple times to secure Crew, but the system wouldn’t allow for the necessary changes. The flight ended up getting cancelled, as did many others, but Anthony was at his podium for nearly seven hours doing everything imaginable to fix it. On top of this, it was Christmas AND his birthday! He said to me that he would rather give all the Customers a Christmas miracle of getting home rather than celebrate his birthday at home. In a span of multiple days where our operation was ‘doom and gloom,’ Anthony is a bright shining star and should be an example of what a Southwest Employee should be through and through.”
We’re In This Together
Critical to the recovery of our operation was the work required to reposition out-of-place Crew Members. For days on end, our Crew Schedulers worked around the clock to meet unprecedented incidents of Crew displacement (think “domino effect,” only there’s no end to the dominoes). To confront this challenge, over 350 Employees (many former Crew Schedulers) volunteered for several days to assist in restoring order and process flow for the positioning of our Crews systemwide. Since that time, we have accelerated plans that were already in place for critical improvements to Crew Scheduling tools that will provide us quicker and faster solutions going forward. Of the many encouraging words from one Coheart to another, this one captured the moment very well.
“Marlo voluntarily came in on her day off to assist her old teammates in Crew Scheduling. I think this is one of the most touching and inspiring acts of Servant’s Heart I have ever seen in my career. Marlo’s selfless dedication to serving her Cohearts, past & present, as well as her relentless Warrior Spirit in times of need make her a Star.”
Random Acts and Offers of Kindness (my personal favorite)
The moment our People realized the magnitude of this event, they took to social media to raise their hands to be in service to others. This is just a sample of the Heart of Southwest Airlines.
“HOU—I am coming through baggage claim in about 20 minutes with some snacks and water for whoever needs it. These are from me and my friends in my neighborhood. See you soon!”
“I have a spare room in Tampa if anyone wants to come to my home. I have two dogs and live 10 minutes from the airport. Call or text me—I’ll pick you up!”
“Any Cohearts needing a ride from Indianapolis to Atlanta, I’m leaving at 8:30pm ET”
“Can someone from Orlando Baggage Service Office let me know if People can come help sort stuff? I’m on reserve today and wouldn’t mind doing whatever until I get called to fly. Let me know!”
“In Austin, don’t have much room but have a pullout couch and food if anyone needs a place to stay!”
“If anyone needs a place to stay in Denver, let me know. We have an extra bedroom and are welcoming anyone who needs food or a shower. Safe travels!”
“Any Flight Attendants stuck in Baltimore, I’m a Provisioning Agent and live 15 minutes from the airport and I have a spare room and a couch that pulls out into a queen bed. I have a washer and a dryer and a spare full bathroom. If you need some place to stay or a shower or to do some laundry, please reach out to me.”
“If we have Crew stuck in Houston, I’ll come pick you up (my car is still at the airport), and you are more than welcome to enjoy a home-cooked meal and some Hospitality my house. Stay the night if you need to…”
“I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning from Omaha driving south the Centerville, Texas at 4am. If you are stuck in Omaha and need to get south, let me know! Will hit Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Dallas on my way!”
“If there is anyone stuck in San Antonio with no place to stay, we have a guest room you can stay in, or we can help with a home-cooked meal, laundry, anything we can do to help! … We are ten minutes from the airport and can pick up or drop off.”
“If there’s any Crew stuck in Washington, DC, let me know. I live in the district and can bring y’all pizzas! I have a small studio apartment but working heat, and all are welcome!”
“I have two rooms in Tampa…30 minutes from the airport, hot shower, prime rib dinner, and drinks. Home gym too!”
Organizational Identity: Purpose
I’d be willing to bet that, at one point in our lives, we all have asked the simple yet complex question, “Why do I exist?” Or possibly channeled our inner George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life (a Harvey family classic) and asked, “What would the world look like if I were never in it?” For some, this thought is prompted by a single dramatic event, while others may actually pour over it daily as a guide for living.
A company’s Purpose is formed in much the same way, either created in an instant to meet a specific, clear need or over time, very deliberately refined. No matter the path, having a Purpose distinctly shapes an organization’s identity and, ultimately, its culture—answering the questions of who we are and why.
When I originally committed to write about the connection between Southwest’s Purpose and our organizational identity, it was well before the significant—very public—operational challenges our Company faced in December. I mention this for a reason. The broad objective of the Teams I lead is to endear people to our company with competitive service offerings, cost value, and the promise of being treated so well that Southwest becomes their Company’s first choice for air travel. This falls in perfect sync with our Southwest Airlines Purpose, which is to Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. But I certainly didn’t anticipate having to approach my message against the backdrop of what our Customers and Employees (possibly many of you) just experienced.
In my nearly 24 years with Southwest, I’ve seen our organizational identity tested. 9/11, the Great Recession, MAX aircraft grounding, and the pandemic are just some of the “pressure-cooker” events that come to mind. And the bigger test is always how we measure against the storied legacy of Leaders before us who navigated crises while continuing to fulfill Southwest’s Purpose for our Employees and Customers.
This past December was something different. Never have we put that much strain on our identity or asked so much of our People. It is in moments of crisis that true character is revealed, and in the midst of so much uncertainty and doubt, it was the Southwest Purpose that prevailed as our greatest point of clarity. The Servant’s Heart and Warrior Spirit of all Southwest Employees showed up as I have never seen before, singularly unified by our Purpose to Connect People to what’s important in their lives. From making things right for our Customers and taking care of Cohearts to starting the process of regaining trust, Herb and Colleen would both be so proud. Staying true to our Purpose—to who we are—is, and will remain, our guiding principle. There is no greater commitment we can make to our Customers or to one another.
Dave Harvey, Vice President and Chief Sales Officer
Recognition: Top-down Recognition
At Southwest, we talk a lot about putting our People first. It’s our Employees who make us an industry leader. Recognizing and appreciating them is not only the right thing to do, data shows that it has an undeniable positive impact on Employee engagement. It’s also true that engaged Employees tend to work more safely and productively. And in the airline industry—particularly the area of Technical Operations, which encompasses the highly-regulated and safety-sensitive work of aircraft maintenance—safety and productivity are paramount. There is no room for compromise in these areas, which makes it all the more important for our Leaders to be genuinely invested in cultivating an engaged workforce. For these reasons, we intentionally appreciate and recognize our Employees through several formal programs and countless informal ways.
Southwest offers an online recognition platform that our Leaders can use daily, monthly, quarterly, and annually to recognize their Team Members. Leaders also have the flexibility and authority to do what is right for their People. Something we emphasize in Tech Ops is taking a personal approach to recognizing important life events. Our Leaders are great about sending hand-written notes to acknowledge weddings, deaths in the family, new babies, or any number of moments that matter to our Employees. This is one of my favorite things to do each week. It always makes me feel so connected to our Team.
However, recognition takes effort. I’d be lying if I told you we don’t have to work on it. We do! The daily demands on our Leaders are extensive, and recognition could easily fall through the cracks when trying to manage over 4,000 flights a day. Within our department, we set recognition goals for each Leadership Team to ensure that our Leaders are integrating an appropriate amount of recognition for our Employees throughout the year. We also include our recognition performance metrics in our quarterly business review. This helps ensure that we, as Leaders, hold each other accountable for valuing the recognition of our Employees as highly as we value our operational and financial performance. And it’s paying off! Our Employee Engagement and survey results are trending positively.
For us, spending time and effort recognizing our People is not only good for business, it’s good for the heart!
Senior Vice President Technical Operations
Think back to a time in your career when you were recognized by a peer for a job well done. How did that make you feel?
A study by Gallup-Workhuman on the power of recognition revealed, “Employees want recognition from peers as much or more than they want it from managers, supervisors or leaders.” Why is that?
At Southwest Airlines, Employee feedback is crucial to our day-to-day business. Our Company was built on the quality of our Employees and the fundamental truth that they—not the nuts and bolts of flying airplanes—are what set us apart from our competition. In the same way that feedback from Frontline Employees carries weight in how we measure operational effectiveness, recognition from a peer has a deeply personal impact on how Employees view their value. While recognition from a Leader could be perceived as a requirement of a Leader’s role, there is no inherent expectation for a peer to recognize a peer. Southwest provides an online platform that enables Employees to meaningfully recognize their peers in real time. Employees who participate prove to be more engaged and more likely to provide feedback on how we, as Leaders, can better support them. We believe this makes the Employee experience stronger from start to finish.
Also, departments encourage recognition differently. For example, the majority of our workforce is mobile, so Leaders aren’t able to see the great work of our Flight Attendants each day. Since the platform allows us to see all recognition activity, we encourage peer-to-peer recognition by awarding “Recognition Champions.” Our goal is simple: recognize those who are recognizing others.
I will never forget the phone call I received from our very own Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, at the beginning of my Leadership career when she told me, “I will never call you and ask why you did too much for someone, but I will call you and ask why you didn’t do enough.” Not all companies have the same platform, process, or culture of recognition—but starting somewhere is better than not starting at all.
If you’re reading this, wishing you were surrounded by a stronger culture of recognition, know this: It starts with you. Remember how you felt when recognized by a peer for a job well done. Commit each day to paying it forward. Never underestimate the affirming power of your own voice.
Vice President Inflight
Recognition: Customer to Employee
Since we began operating over 51 years ago, Southwest Airlines has consistently prioritized taking care of our People. Recognizing outstanding work goes hand-in-glove with that commitment.
We ask our Employees to exceed our Customers’ expectations by extending our Legendary Customer Service, so when our Customers take the time to share the impact our Employees have made in their lives, it is crucial to pass along their praise. Our Company has processes in place to capture those commendations, track the feedback, and share the Customer’s words with the Employee(s). Year to date, our People have received over 15,000 commendations from Customers!
Providing Customer commendations is more than just a pat on the back. The recognition is a tangible affirmation that what we do makes a difference. Whether it’s a grand effort or a simple gesture, these connections matter to our Customers, and it gives us a chance to show our Employees they truly matter. Connecting People to what’s important in their lives goes well beyond transporting a traveler from Point A to Point B.
Customer commendations also provide an opportunity for our CEO Bob Jordan to personally highlight an Employee or group of Employees through his weekly “Shout Out” posted on our internal communication channels. This enables our Company to further socialize the impacts that our Employees make in the lives of our Customers and each other.
The airline business is challenging. When our Employees face tough situations, words of gratitude from our Customers are the perfect encouragement to keep going. Capturing and sharing that praise is a priority for Southwest, and we’ve seen firsthand how recognizing good work and special moments inspires not only the recipient but also those around them. Lifting up one Employee lifts up the entire Team—everyone wins.
At the end of the day, all recognition is meaningful. But recognition from Customers is especially powerful. It is confirmation of a job well done, and our People and our Company are made better by celebrating those moments!
Vice President Customer Experience and Engagement
Over the past few years, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has been a hot topic with more and more companies setting a renewed focus on the importance of managing DEI in the workplace.
Southwest CEO Bob Jordan even added DEI to the Company’s five-year strategy through the commitment to “do well by doing good.” To achieve this goal, let’s first get down to basics and answer, “what is this DEI stuff anyway”?
- Diversity is defined as all characteristics and experiences that define each of us as individuals – abilities, beliefs, thoughts, gender, skin tone, ethnicity, age, and so many more.
- Equity is about leveling the playfield. It is about offering fair, impartial opportunities in employment, training, promotion, and treatment; creating access where obstacles exist. Equity means being treated fairly, but not necessarily equally. For example, two people in a training class might need the same materials in different formats; one is able to listen to a presentation, while another may need captions due to low hearing.
- Inclusion happens when every single one of our differences are seen, heard, and respected. Members of diverse teams who are respected are more likely to work seamlessly together, be highly engaged, and produce innovative and profitable results. Diversity and equity are prerequisites to inclusion, but their presence does not guarantee inclusion will follow. Inclusion needs to be cultivated and this takes time and commitment from everyone in the organization.
Last month, we highlighted how important diversity is at Southwest Airlines. We continue to focus on increasing our diverse talent pipelines so we better represent the communities that we serve.
Additionally, we want our Employees to feel included as part of the Southwest Family. Inclusion is about each of us feeling valued and appreciated for the unique talents and perspectives we offer. Every Southwest Employee should feel that their Leaders and their Cohearts embrace and support them for the authentic views and experiences they bring each and every day.
In 2021, over 24 million American employees left their jobs. In a recent study analyzing why these employees departed, researchers determined that disrespect and lack of inclusivity were the top two reasons these individuals resigned¹. Make no mistake about it, at Southwest, we work every day to create an environment that is both respectful and inclusive. We are committed to building a Culture of belonging by inviting and welcoming the contributions of others. We know that every voice adds value and when we recognize that value among our Cohearts, this is demonstrated in how we value and interact with our Customers.
Inclusivity takes intention. At times, this might mean reflecting on what we don’t know so that we better value others’ perspectives. It might mean inviting feedback so that we know how we can better include others in the conversation and dialog. It might also mean recognizing our mistakes and growing from them. In August, Southwest’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Team hosted our 2022 Inclusion Summit. This year’s focus was Allyship into Action. We are allies when we show empathy to others and when we can imagine what someone might be thinking or feeling. We are allies when we exhibit compassion and concern about how someone else is feeling. Being an ally is one way to foster an inclusive environment, but ally isn’t a noun – it’s a verb. We are allies we when we put our empathy and compassion into action.
We won’t always agree, but that is not the objective of an inclusive environment. We achieve inclusivity when we remain respectful, when we continue collaborating, and when we learn from one another.
Vice President, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
Diversity has been woven into the fabric of our organization since its inception. Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines co-founder and former CEO, once said that before Southwest started flying, only business people and the very wealthy were able to fly. In a sense, by introducing low-fare air travel, Southwest not only democratized the skies but also diversified the skies. This principle has become even more critical as we expand to serve new communities and continue to hire individuals who reflect the communities we serve.
At Southwest Airlines, we are always striving to do better and in 2020, we made some bold and meaningful commitments to enhance diversity within our organization. We know that companies aren’t judged solely on their words but on their actions, and I am proud of the actions Southwest has taken to improve diverse representation in our People. Thanks to our CEO, Bob Jordan, our commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce is highlighted as one of our Foundational Five Strategic Priorities for the next five years. Southwest’s Diversity Hiring Center of Excellence engages with community partners, educational institutions, and many others with the goal of diversifying the talent pipeline for open positions at Southwest. Southwest’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Annual Report was released last spring detailing racial and gender diversity data across the organization and outlining our DE&I priorities and path forward.
We realize that we have work to do and that change takes time. Still, I am honored to be a part of a Company that is not only willing to take a stand for diversity, equity, and inclusion but is willing to take intentional steps to make a difference. Herb Kelleher, also said, “The business of business is People.” We are a Company of People and that means ALL People. Enhancing diversity is a journey and we know it takes Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
Alex Gorinsky, Director Enterprise Supply Chain Management
Leadership: The Next Generation of Leaders
A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 20th anniversary at Southwest Airlines and what a ride it has been. No one would have ever convinced me twenty years ago that I would one day become the Chief Marketing Officer; simply working at Southwest Airlines and being a part of its famed Culture was a dream come true. I am one of many examples of a first-generation college graduate who this Company believed in, invested in, and provided growth opportunities. It is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all Leaders at Southwest, to ensure the same opportunities are available for our next generation of Leaders.
To do that, we must ensure that Southwest remains a successful, growing Company where opportunities are abundant. Ultimately, it is how we treat our People that determines our level of success. Herb Kelleher, Co-Founder of Southwest, once said, “Your People come first, and if you treat them right, they’ll treat the Customers right.” Profits and Shareholder returns will follow.
Southwest Airlines is a special Company and a special place to build a career. In order to remain that way, it must continue to be led by People who treat others with respect and who believe in and live out the values that are at the heart of our Company. These values we hold close are things like integrity, humility, being transparent, and always being kind.
These are the values that show we care about the People of Southwest Airlines, and these are the values our next generation of Leaders must possess. The best way for that to happen is to ensure our future Leaders see their current Leaders live out these values in how they lead Teams and live their lives. We all learn by watching others and emulating what we think makes them effective and successful. If the next generation sees today’s Leaders live out these values and succeed – for Southwest Airlines and in their own careers – they will buy in. Success begets success.
I am excited and inspired by what I see in our next generation of Leaders. They will evolve our Company and adapt to whatever future challenges lie ahead. I am confident they will live out the core values of Southwest Airlines, and so, the recipe of our success over the last 51 years will be the same that drives us forward over the next half-century.
Ryan Green, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer
Leadership: Tough Love
This year I have the pleasure of celebrating 30 years at our LUV Airline. I’ve grown from a Coordinator to an Executive Vice President. I know this happened because of the guidance, support and wisdom of the heartfelt Leaders I’ve had over the years. They invested their time, energy and encouragement, and I believe each of us has the moral responsibility to continue this legacy.
Southwest’s Values are those of care, compassion and grace, but also of direct feedback, honesty and sometimes tough conversations. It shapes the future generation of our Company, and it shaped me! Southwest President Emeritus, Colleen Barrett, taught me tough love and to be comfortable with my sharp edges. That meant how to be assertive, give honest feedback and expect more of myself. In response to being called “emotional,” Colleen once said, “I’m not emotional, I’m passionate.” That passion is one of the many things I admire about Colleen and it came across in all of her work. She corrected me more than once with a firm remark and a red pen all over my written drafts and only to remind me that this was the job I wanted. She taught me how to challenge myself and believe that I was good enough to do more, and for that I am truly grateful. Without her or her tough love, grit and determination, Southwest Airlines wouldn’t be the Company it is today.
Where Colleen taught me to be OK with my sharp edges, my next Leader, Ginger Hardage, showed me how to extend grace. With her, it wasn’t about changing myself, but about learning that there are many ways to achieve what you want, and you can get your message across without using an iron fist. Ginger’s Leadership quality to change the perspective, broaden the understanding and do so with positive intent is a quality any Leader should seek to embrace.
Our loving Culture is iconic — and it’s one that has always included tough love. We didn’t become the Airline we are today by taking the easy route. We know that saying “no,” giving feedback, and even offering a different perspective comes from a place of caring and wanting to grow our Employees. As you think about the future growth of your organization, remember that passion, grace and tough love can all coexist!
Linda Rutherford, Executive Vice President People & Communications
Leadership: Lead from the Front
Throughout my time at Southwest, I’ve served in a number of roles, starting as a Ramp Agent in Detroit and working my way around our network and into my current role as our Vice President Ground Operations. All of these experiences have given me a front row seat to learn from other Leaders and then to decide what Leadership means to me personally.
For me, being a Leader consists of many things: earning the trust of your Team, being vulnerable, being willing to ask questions, and valuing the opinion of others.
It means showing Hospitality to your Team—how can you ensure every Employee feels welcomed, cared for, and appreciated? We must all create and maintain a Culture where our People want to show up and then feel seen and heard. It’s my responsibility to encourage others to consider different viewpoints, be kind to those with differing opinions, and to ensure we are doing our part to expand the opportunities available to Employees.
We are all Leaders, on some level. I want our Team to have the knowledge, tools, and resources to go make the best decision for the Customer or the situation at hand. Our Employees are empowered to do what they can to take care of a Customer based on that particular person’s circumstances. At the end of the day, they are the ones on the frontlines, ensuring our Customers have a great experience.
I have always put an emphasis on being visible in our operation. To be a good Leader, you need to be witnessing what your Team is experiencing—offering feedback, celebrating the wins, and working together to make improvements when necessary. Leaders are responsible for creating the ecosystem they want for their Team, and you build that by engaging with your Employees and taking the time to understand their perspectives.
I encourage you to take the time to think about the kind of Leader you want to be—and then be intentional about acting on it. There is no greater calling than serving others.
Vice President Ground Operations
Attracting & Retaining Employees: Employee Engagement
As a 16-year Southwest Airlines Employee, I love meeting new people outside of work because as you run down the list of typical questions, the “where do you work” question is bound to come up. Inevitably, when I share that I work for Southwest, I’m met with excitement and usually a personal story explaining why they LOVE Southwest. Why is that? Our secret sauce is simple…it’s the great People of Southwest! Whether helping a Customer in need, creating a special memory for a young traveler, or just sharing their vibrant personalities with Customers, our Employees make a difference in the lives of Customers and one another.
So, it only makes sense that we would focus on making a great experience for our Employees at Southwest! It’s always been important to us, but in recent years, we have taken a more systematic approach to it. Today, we have an end-to-end Employee Journey comprised of 22 moments that matter to our Employees. It starts when someone joins as a new Southwest Employee and extends even after an Employee leaves the Company (after all, we care about our Retirees and Alumni).
Our Employee experience work is dependent upon Employee listening. We even developed our Employee Journey by asking Employees, in focus groups back in 2018, about the moments that matter most to them. Today, we continue to evaluate our progress against these Journey moments through focus groups, our Companywide engagement survey, and specific Journey moment surveys.
We are constantly working towards improving the Employee Journey. At the beginning of 2022, we launched a new recognition program and platform to provide “in the moment” recognition to Employees. They can earn Southwest Airlines Gratitude (SWAG) Points and redeem them for merchandise, gift cards, experiences, or even Rapid Rewards Points in an online mall. And we’ve improved our milestone service anniversary recognition as well. With hiring at an all-time high, we are working on improving the onboarding experience for new Employees so they start their time at Southwest in the best possible way. And these are just a couple of recent examples of how we are proactively improving the Employee journey.
We’ve always said that happy Employees equates to happy Customers, and that’s good business sense and great for the bottom line. Ultimately, we do it because it’s the right thing to do!
Senior Director, Employee Experience
Attracting & Retaining Employees: Training & Development
Our Company Promise commits to providing our Employees equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Southwest Airlines University (SWA U) exists on this foundation. We strive to create training and development opportunities for our Leaders and Employees to continue pouring into our strong Culture, thus retaining our most important asset, and setting up our People to achieve their professional goals.
SWA U is where our New Hires start their career and where we encourage Employees to make learning and development a central component of their journey at Southwest. Our Purpose at SWA U is to equip Employees with the knowledge and training needed to perform their jobs with Safety, Reliability, Hospitality, and Low Cost in mind. To help “Make Learning a Habit,” we offer formal and informal training to increase skillset and to foster personal growth and development.
As a Company, we walk the talk when we say that our People are our greatest asset. We firmly believe that through engagement and development of our Employees, we can better retain them. Training our Frontline Employees with state of the art equipment allows them to learn and experience firsthand the skills needed to perform their job duties.
We also focus on Leadership and Employee development at SWA U. In order for our Leaders to lead at their peak performance, they must continue to invest in their own development. Our Leaders receive initial Leadership training when they promote into a Leadership position at the Company and all Leaders must complete an annual commitment of Leadership development coursework. Other opportunities available to Leaders include mentorship, cohort experiences, and dedicated learning events through programs offered by SWA U. By investing in our Leaders, we increase their engagement in their work and Teams, and the Employees under their Leadership benefit as a result. It is a win-win!
My Southwest journey began as an Intern nearly 23 years ago! I am a product of the development and growth opportunities that our great Company offers to its People. I hope that you take the time this year to set goals around your professional development—read a book, take a class, or mentor someone—so you and those you lead reap the rewards and carry a culture of learning forward in your own environment.
Sr. Director Leadership & Employee Development, Southwest Airlines University
Attracting & Retaining Employees: Hiring
At Southwest Airlines, we believe People are our greatest asset. We lovingly call our HR Department the “People Department” to remind us all of that focus. If Employees are our greatest asset, then how do we protect that asset? The Talent Management Team, along with other partners across the Company, provides opportunities that engage, develop, and retain our Employees.
Our Team has one major advantage—we do all of this in an environment that promotes Servant Leadership with a corporate Culture that encourages a fun and collaborative atmosphere. Traditional talent management focuses on setting clear expectations and goals, making sure employees have a clear understanding of their strengths and opportunities through performance check-ins, and providing insight into career paths and areas of growth for their career. Even though we have the same focus as traditional talent management, I think what makes Talent Management at Southwest Airlines so unique is that our expectations are not just about “what” you do, but also about “how” you do it. One of our Company Values, Humility, literally references “don’t be a jerk.” Having clear behavioral Values ensures Employees and Leaders know how to conduct themselves in order to uphold the Southwest Culture. This Culture enables Employees and Leaders to develop trusting relationships. These relationships support authentic dialogues so Leaders can help their Employees succeed.
One of the main purposes for Talent Management at Southwest Airlines is to build tools and processes (Check-ins, Competencies, and Performance Calibration) that allow our Leaders to coach Employees to meet their performance and career goals. Talent Management also supports the Employee in their unique performance and career goals, creating career growth opportunities within Southwest Airlines. I myself am a product of this career mobility. I started my Southwest career as a Talent Acquisition Coordinator and now have the privilege of leading the Talent Management function for our Company. I am super passionate about how we can continue to engage, develop, and retain our greatest asset—our People!
Cheers to 2022 and finding additional ways to engage, develop, and retain your teams!
Sr. Director Talent Management & HR Business Partners
The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service Newsletter
At Southwest Airlines, we’ve looked forward to our 50th Anniversary for a long time. And while our 50th year looked nothing like we anticipated due to a global pandemic, throughout 2021 we have still celebrated this milestone in appropriate and cost-conscious ways with Employees, Customers, and Partners. As we approach the end of 2021, it’s hard to believe our 50th year is already coming to a close. One chapter of our Company history is ending as we, full of hope and resilience, turn the page to our next chapter.
We’ve experienced some amazing wins and faced some tough challenges in our first half-century. I firmly believe that understanding where we’ve come from and what we’ve been through helps us prepare for the future. One final way we are celebrating our milestone anniversary this year is by releasing a one-of-a-kind commemorative history book: 50 Years. One Heart. A History of Southwest in 50 Objects. This unique coffee-table book brings our Company’s colorful story and our corporate archives to life through beautiful photographs and moments from our rich history.
Through the process of working on this book with many who started at Southwest in the very beginning (or close to it), I’ve been reinvigorated with a fresh sense of who we are as a Company and what we value. Based on my own Southwest experiences and in hearing stories directly from the People that lived them, it’s clear to me that our People-first mentality and disruptive business model are still revolutionary—often imitated but never duplicated.
It has been a highlight of my career to play a part in honoring Southwest Airlines’ golden year. I love sharing our stories—an important part of our Heart—with our dedicated People, key Partners, and loyal Customers. Despite any challenges we face, our future feels bright as we look to the Company’s next 50 years and beyond. As we release 50 Years. One Heart., my hope is that this book inspires all who read it to remember and celebrate the past while looking to the future with unwavering optimism.
Happy reading, and cheers to 50 years!
Vice President Communications & Outreach
The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service Newsletter
Throughout Southwest Airlines’ 50-year history, our Warrior Spirit has been and continues to be a key pillar of our Culture. As I reflect on Warrior Spirit and what it means to me, what comes to mind is a term used in change management: Organizational Resilience.
Organizational Resilience is a company’s ability to anticipate and respond to moments of adversity, change, and uncertainty. As you might imagine, a company with a 50-year history has undergone various periods of uncertainty and change. Over the past five decades, Southwest Airlines has grown to nearly 54,000 Employees, expanded our network internationally, survived economic downturns, and weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining our Culture and reputation for Legendary Customer Service. Although Warrior Spirit is symbolic of how we as a Company respond to obstacles, it is also an example of our ability to push beyond complacency and show up each day despite personal circumstances to succeed at providing Hospitality to each other and our Customers.
So, how exactly have we developed and maintained that Warrior Spirit? By demonstrating courage, exercising discipline, and practicing resilience. Courage to challenge the status quo and take the path less traveled. Discipline to remain steadfast during times of crisis and focused on our vision and purpose. And, Resilience by remaining optimistic, never giving up, and striving to be the best each day.
In addition to those three principles, helping Leaders and Employees navigate change is essential to maintaining our Culture and Warrior Spirit. Given that change is a constant and is now occurring at an accelerated pace, our dedicated change management function, Change Leadership, seeks to make change easier while improving the resilience of our People. Although change is never easy, our goal is to equip Leaders and Employees with the right tools and techniques when planning or navigating change.
As we continue to leverage our Warrior Spirit for the next 50 years, here are a few basic change principles that will help us maintain our reputation for Hospitality and protect our Culture:
- Always remain connected to the larger purpose
- Remember past successes
- Extend grace to others and practice self-compassion
- Innovate and solve problems in new ways
- Pause, celebrate progress, and recognize each other
Southwest Warriors – One Team, All Heart!
Director – Change Leadership
The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service Newsletter
Throughout Southwest Airlines’ 50-year history, Heart has always been at the cornerstone of our Culture. Living and working with a Servant’s Heart, creates unique opportunities for special connections with our Customers and our communities. This giving spirit is brought to life by our 56,000+ Employees who put their Hearts in action every day to create meaningful impact where they live and work.
While the Company has experienced a number of challenges and obstacles over the last five decades, none compare to the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic. As I think back to the height of the pandemic, I’m still awe-struck by our Employees and their desire to continue to support our community partners, working on the frontlines, to help individuals and families impacted – all while experiencing their own personal struggles and uncertainty.
So, what did we do to honor our 50th birthday, while still working around-the-clock to stabilize the business? We leaned into our Warrior Spirit and we rallied!
Inspired by our Employees and remaining true to our rich Culture, we launched the One Million Acts of Kindness campaign to show the world our Heart. The campaign was designed to engage our Employees, Customers and communities to inspire a kinder, more compassionate world.
I’m proud to share that we achieved and exceeded our One Million Acts goal (before the end of the year)! There was no doubt our People would go above and beyond to show acts of kindness every day. From participating in virtual volunteer opportunities, to gifting a Coheart with a coffee or lunch, to donating toys to our official 50th anniversary community partner – the Birthday Party Project – it was clear our Heart was beating strong!
Of course, we couldn’t stop there. To celebrate reaching one million acts, we’re paying it forward by awarding 50 nonprofits with a Million Dollars of Thanks. We look forward to sharing how these deserving organizations will use their travel awards to achieve their mission and spread kindness across their communities.
As we close out our 50th anniversary and look ahead to the next 50 years, I’m confident our Culture for serving others with Heart will remain strong as we continue to connect People and champion communities – the Southwest way!
Director Community Outreach
The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service Newsletter
Throughout our 50-year history, Southwest Airlines® has become synonymous with best-in-class Customer Service and Hospitality. We are defined by how we treat our Customers and our Cohearts, and it’s what differentiates us from the rest of the airline industry.
We want every Southwest Customer to feel welcomed, cared for, and appreciated throughout their travel journey. Our Employees are experts at doing just that—by connecting with Customers and tailoring the experience to each individual Customer’s expectations. It’s an intentional practice that can cultivate lifelong Southwest fans who remember that one time a Customer Relations Representative spent extra time on the phone with them to resolve an issue, or that time a Flight Attendant helped a mother traveling alone by walking their baby up and down the aisle of the plane.
How we deliver Hospitality evolves over time—we have to take into account the current environment and its effect on Customers. Right now, we’re navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, which has meant providing Hospitality behind masks, welcoming back Customers who haven’t flown in a year, and welcoming first-time Customers who may not be as familiar with travel protocols. Through it all, our Southwest People remain the same. We intentionally seek out ways to be advocates for our Customers and to create meaningful connections, all while empowering our people to customize how they deliver Hospitality based on a Customer’s particular situation.
These principles ring true within our walls as well—they can be seen when our Flight Crews grab food for one another while on the ground, when an Operations Agent takes a moment to ask a Flight Attendant how they’re doing in between flights, or how our Employees take the time to recognize each other for acts of kindness or lending a helping hand.
I’m impressed every day by our Employees and the lengths they go to serve our Customers and each other. And I hope you’ll join us to hear more—about Southwest and some of the other most loved brands—in our upcoming webinar. Please join me as we share what it takes to have A Culture of Hospitality.
Senior Vice President – Operations and Hospitality
The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service Newsletter
We just wrapped up one of my favorite months. There are so many reasons to celebrate this time of year! First, we got to celebrate my favorite holiday, Independence Day, with family, sunshine, food, fireworks, and all things freedom (and a lot of things that sparkle!). We’re also well into the summer travel season, and the airports and planes are filled with people taking vacations and visiting family. Every single day in the summer at Southwest we get to play an important role in fulfilling our Purpose: Connecting People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.
Celebration is an important aspect of the Southwest Culture, and I would even say we might be experts at it! Part of showing up for your co-workers (or as we call them, Cohearts), is genuinely caring about their lives. Do we celebrate service anniversaries and special awards for excellence at work? Of course we do! But we also celebrate the personal milestones—birthdays, marriages, babies, pets, new houses, and even special vacations.
In addition to those personal milestones, celebrating organizational milestones is key to our Culture. We see it as an opportunity to reinforce how much we value both our Employees and Customers — because without either, we wouldn’t be here. For example, on June 18, Southwest celebrated our 50th Anniversary. We held an epic birthday party and invited all of our 56,000+ Employees to join us online to celebrate, and we unveiled the newest member of the Southwest fleet, Freedom One!
That entire week, our Employees all across the Southwest system decorated, played games, and celebrated the milestone birthday with our Customers and, of course, with tons of Heart.
Colleen always encouraged our Employees to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. Celebrating together tells Employees they are a valued and appreciated part of the family. Without our Southwest Family, we can’t get you to see your family this summer. And we know you are counting on us!
We have a couple new items to check out in the Institute this month, including some heart-warming Employee recognition in the latest installment of LUV Mail, and a new podcast as part of our 50th Anniversary celebration. I hope you can feel our love and virtual confetti sprinkles from here!
Managing Director, Culture and Engagement at Southwest Airlines
The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service Newsletter
On June 18th, Southwest Airlines® celebrated an amazing 50 years of service. It’s still hard to believe that we’ve come this far. I certainly would not have predicted it all those years ago when we were fighting just for the right to get our little Texas-based airline off the ground! And I absolutely never expected to be writing to you as the namesake of an Institute created to share the tenets of Culture and Customer Service for which Southwest® is now so well-known.
When I reflect on those early days, I vividly remember wanting to be part of this airline—this new experiment in air travel—and believing in my heart that I could help make a difference. I recognized, even then, all of the influences that would come to bear in building our Company, in particular the importance of taking care of our People and our Customers. I did that best by being perceptive when it came to needs, staying organized, being supportive, and frankly, making sure things got done. I thank my mother for imparting the guiding principle at a very early age to “do good unto others,” which I have tried to live by my whole life. It has become fundamental to the way we live and work at Southwest. But make no mistake: I was one piece of a much larger relationship between our Company, our Employees, and our Customers, and it’s a relationship that has continued to grow and thrive, along with our business.
A genuine sense of Family is at the Heart of our Culture and Customer Service at Southwest Airlines, and we have tried to capture that in every part of the CCB Institute. I could not feel more privileged to be part of it and to welcome you as you explore these truly unique elements of our story. And what better timing to launch this labor of “LUV” than as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Southwest Airlines!
Each month moving forward, we’ll pop into your inbox to share resources to help you make your own impact in your organization and on our world. You’ll hear from friends of mine offering their thoughts and tips on all things Culture and Customer Service. And we’ll also provide opportunities for you to go even deeper through virtual and in-person learning experiences.
For today, I say “welcome!” And I’ll leave you with this gem from one of my favorite books, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: “Choose to be kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.”