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.