The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service

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Celebrate People

At Southwest, we’ve always been encouraged to work hard but to also play hard—to find fun in what we do and celebrate as often as we can. Recognizing the value in our work and highlighting the accomplishments of others began on day one through the influence and example of our original Leaders, most notably our President Emeritus Colleen Barrett and our Founder and Chairman Emeritus, the late Herb Kelleher.

Well before the introduction of formal recognition programs, Colleen was famous for sending handwritten thank-you notes to Employees, acknowledging life events, and making sure accomplishments were appreciated. She also recognized the diverse nature and tasks of the multiple work groups within Southwest and was intentionally thoughtful about messaging, whether Companywide or to specific departments. For example, what resonates with Pilots may not mean the same thing to Ground Operations Employees.

This 360-degree view of engaging our distinct workforce and honoring their contributions is representative of the Values of The Southwest Way. Awards and incentive programs have evolved over the years, but recognizing others remains a leading priority for Southwest. We’re pleased to share a few longstanding initiatives uniquely inspired by Colleen. We hope you’ll likewise be inspired to create your own brand of encouragement and recognition within your organization!

Heroes of the Heart

Heroes of the Heart began in 1992 to honor a “behind the scenes” workgroup that has no contact with external Customers but contributes every day to the success of the Company. Under Colleen’s direction, the idea originated with the Companywide Culture Committee (a collaborative gathering of Employees from all work groups with a Heart for nurturing the Southwest Culture) and has become one of the most prestigious Team recognitions at Southwest. Heroes of the Heart recipients receive several tangible prizes in addition to a Leader-led celebration and the year-long dedication of a 737 aircraft in their honor. The next time you fly Southwest, check your aircraft as you leave–it just might be the Heroes plane, emblazoned with the Heroes of the Heart logo and the recipient Team’s name!

The Heart and Soul Award

The Heart and Soul Award, which Colleen continues to personally select, is awarded annually to one exceptional Employee who has invested years of hard work and dedication to Southwest Airlines, demonstrating a remarkable commitment to serving others with warmth, kindness, and Golden Rule behavior.

In Colleen’s words, “the Heart and Soul Award is the bow on top of a several tiered cake, each layer representing something different and wonderful. By way of example only, the first layer could be called The Golden Rule; the second, a Warrior Spirit; the third, a Fun-LUVing Attitude; the fourth, a Servant’s Heart; and the top candle or star or special icing, if you will, is the Heart and Soul Award.”

Colleen Barrett Award for Administrative Excellence

The Admin Awards is the first and only nationwide public recognition program dedicated to highlighting and celebrating the immeasurable contributions of the administrative professional role. The most coveted and prestigious award bestowed by The Admin Awards is named after Colleen, who first proved herself indispensable as legal secretary to Southwest Airlines Founder and CEO, the late Herb Kelleher, before ascending the ranks to Southwest Airlines President and COO. Colleen has always been a fierce advocate for the administrative profession, and she understands first-hand the extraordinary impact that high performing admins have on an organization’s success.

Learn more about the Colleen Barrett Award or nominate a deserving professional here.
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