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Can we all be a little more like Southwest? Please?

Southwest Love and Purpose Oriented

I wrote this article right after I flew to Dallas Love Field with Southwest (the only airlines I use for my domestic flights) on December 3rd, 2018 . I took the above picture there too. I was in Dallas speaking at the at the FirstHumanClub conference. Mark Nagel, Senior Manager People, HR Transformation and Employee Services at Southwest Airlines, was also a speaker who told us the amazing stories and the culture of the company which made my heart leap one more time. I have been following this amazing company for a long time now.

I did not have the chance to publish it since then. Today I heard the amazing visionary and humanistic co-founder Herb Kelleher died. I wanted to share this in his memory, honoring his amazing legacy. We will be forever grateful for his amazing heart and being one of the trailblazers of servant leadership. We will continue to follow his footsteps showing the world it is possible to put your people first and create a profitable company. I am mourning with you Southwest Airlines. You should be so proud to follow his legacy.

As we get more and more conscious as consumers, we pay attention where and who we buy from. Our money gets more aligned with the values we support. I love that we can impact good change.

We are faced with daily decisions like these as consumers:

1. They treat me well as a client, but I hear they are jeopardizing the wellbeing of their people with bad and old fashioned management practices. Do I want them to make more money at the expense of their employees’ wellbeing?

2. Do I want to support these local small businesses that probably are trying to make ends meet for the most part and go through hard times as a family? They do not have the extravagant marketing budgets to get their names out there.

3. Do I want to spend money on companies who do not care about our planet and the future of our children?

4. Should I really buy from those companies that find all the extra fees they can charge on me without a single thought of how I am going to feel as a customer?

5. Am I going to buy from a company that only cares about short-term value instead of trying to create a benefit for all its stakeholders in the long run?

Basically it all comes down to this main question: Where can I buy the stuff I need and spend my hard earned money that aligns with my values? We all have the power to do that.

As we get more educated and more conscious, it is better for some leaders to understand this is our future especially with Millennials and Gen Z. They neither want to work for nor buy from these type of organizations. They care about purpose-driven organizations, meaningful work, and their planet.

Let’s look at an example from Southwest, not accepting the pressure to charge for baggage because it is not aligned with their purpose that says “affordable travel”. CEO Kelly said that view is all wrong: "SWA would lose a billion dollars if we started doing those things." “Passengers choose the airline because they like its passenger-friendly policies” he said, and the ticket sales more than make up for the revenue it’s losing by offering free checked baggage—estimated by some analysts at around $500 million a year. He is right. Even if Southwest can also have its own hard moments, I will always prefer to fly with them knowing they are true to their purpose and make their decisions based on that each and every time. They always put people first: I know it, I witnessed it and I was lucky enough to meet some people who work there like Mark Nagel who can verify that.

By staying true to who they are, they increased their fan base and make more money in the long run. They refused to lay off people in the last economic crisis while all other airlines laid off 80,000 people. Southwest always made profit; 45 straight years in a row. That is astounding for many organizations that still believe in the old mindset of profit maximization at the expense of their people. They prove over and over again, you can choose to do the right thing for your people and your clients which will in turn bring more profit.

Organizations still think short term and assume consumers do not follow the news. We know when organizations do not treat their people or our planet right. Conscious consumers will avoid everything not to be their customers. Some of these organizations still assume people are dumb. They really unfortunately do. I remember the day I spoke to my manager at the time: “My customers are at least as intelligent as I am. They are not going to spend money on unnecessary products just so that I can fill my quarterly quota. It takes years to gain the trust of a good client and will we act like they are dumber than us to buy something they do not need?” At least at the time there was no social media and we did not hear about everything. Every news is out there now. There is no hiding. People are watching and reading. You can even read about organizations from the internal point of view through platforms like Glassdoor now.

If an organization does something right and continues to grow, we can at least try to imitate them. We do not even have to reinvent the wheel. Let’s look at what they did right. As I say that I also know it takes a mind shift and swap of core beliefs too. That is why people make all the difference like Sue Bingham’s book Creating the High Performance Workplace says: You can imitate 80% of what another company does, but the competitive advantage, the remaining %20 comes from your people. It takes a certain type of leader like Co-founder Herb Kelleher of Southwest who understand this.

I am waiting impatiently to see leaders of all kinds of organizations understand the old way of treating employees and clients for profit maximization only is going away. It is better to get on board, at least try to learn, imitate the Southwests of this world and then understand what really needs to change in your very core. We are all watching and we care.

Just watch the video of Soutwesth’s purpose and mission. If you cannot watch it all, please just pay attention to the first few minutes. See how purpose-driven they are. I will continue to buy from them because they are aligned with my values as a conscious consumer.

A big fan of Southwest and Herb Kelleher! They have a beautiful story that we can all believe and learn. To more purposed-driven leaders and organizations like them!

Brooke Erol

If you want to start a business or gain clarity about your purpose or need help engaging your people by bringing more meaning to your workplace please contact me.

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