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Final Research Paper: Southwest Airlines

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Final Research Paper: Southwest Airlines

Melinda Haas

Axia College of University of Phoenix

MGT 245 Organizational Behavior

Jack McCann

February 11, 2007

Southwest Airlines embodies the best that a large company can be. The structure is designed to allow quick action and support of its large body of employees rather than complete control and bureaucratic red tape. It is widely recognized as one of the most desirable places to work and is constantly emulated by its competitors, not to mention other business not in competition. It is an entity that holds its employees in the highest regard, even above its external customers. Its culture is unique and strong and based on love and respect. Even after its current leaders are gone, the culture will continue because of the policies in place to perpetuate their rituals and values. Southwest is conservative in its business dealings and very liberal in its care of its employees. Who would not want to be part of an organization like this?

Organizational Structure

Southwest has a very lean, decentralized structure. There are very few levels between the CEO and frontline supervisors. Their philosophy on structure is very relaxed. Any employee who feels the need is welcomed to contact someone above their supervisor. The president has three executive vice presidents who each have five or six vice presidents who report to them. There is one vice president of Internal Audits and Special Projects who reports directly to the president. (Rivera, Cornwell, Abenes, 2003)

All employees are trained to understand the values that Southwest embodies. They are also encouraged to handle a lot of decision making on their own, without the fear of reprisals if they sidestep “policy”. Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest, said, “We’ve tried to create an environment where people are able to, in effect, bypass even the fairly lean structure that we have so that they don’t have to convene a meeting of the sages in order to get something done.” (Freeberg, 1998, p. 76) They feel the benefits of innovative employees far out weigh the detractions of the occasional misstep.

Southwest keeps the bureaucracy low, so that they do not have problems with dragging down their innovative and small-business atmosphere and abilities. The systems they do have in place are to serve their employees, not rule them. Any hindrance to their flexibility will not allow them to move quickly when they need to in case of sudden opportunity. (Freeburg, 1998, p. 77)

When presented with a three-page memo regarding the reorganization of Southwest $700 million maintenance department, Herb read it right where he stood and expressed a single concern. The presenter said he had the same concerns. Herb approved the reorganization without any more discussion. (Freeberg, 1998, p. 78) This is a prime example of the small-company method of handling business. No need for a study to be undertaken, just good decision-making by strong people.

Employees are allowed to make decisions for the entire company. When Boeing was getting ready to release the next 737, they allowed a flight attendant to tell them how they should redesign certain aspects of the plane to increase the speed with which they could turn a plane. By placing access panels in a different location, the people who processed the plane inside wouldn’t have to wait while the waste was being pumped off of the plane. (Freeberg, 1998)

Their communication structure is lean, as well. They try to use direct communication, rather than written communication, to speed up the time it takes to accomplish things. Employees are encouraged to talk face to face with the person they want to communicate with whenever possible, rather than to produce a written document.

Organizational Culture

Southwest’s culture stems, primarily, from the battles that they had getting started in the early seventies and is fed by the skirmishes they have with their competition. Because of the us-against-them mentality of those times, everyone bonded together into a tight unit that held the same values.

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. To Our Employees: We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization

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