South West Airlines “Puddle of Influence”

    Paula Fulghum

    I recently attended a women in business networking luncheon where an executive from Southwest Airlines spoke about why they are profitable in an industry that has historically had challenges for decades. As an HR Consultant, I was not prepared for a meeting that focused on employment, however, when he began to speak, I was very pleasantly surprised.

    He stated the following:

    Happy Employees Make Happy Customers

    Happy Customers Make Happy Shareholders

    His speech began with a humorous statement to say that “if you can’t make fun of yourself and have a good time, you can’t work at South West Airlines!”

    He began to tell a story about the CEO of the company having a photo of his long time secretary’s dog on his desk, next to photos of his own children. Since his secretary did not have any children of her own and this pet was her family, the CEO embraced her family as it was his own. She had given many years of service to the CEO and the culture of South West Airlines is clearly embraced from the top down.

    I heard stories about employees going out of their way to help a customer in mid flight who found out that his wife had just passed away when he got off of the plane and the efforts their employees took to make the best out of an extremely emotional situation. I heard about a bible being left on a plane (comically on a trip to Las Vegas!) and how the flight attendant took it upon herself to personally mail it to the couple that left it, accompanied by fast food restaurant gift certificates because she thought they lost all of their money and didn’t want them to go hungry.

    When you hear stories about this, you might think, this sounds very warm and fuzzy and this stuff really doesn’t last. I was surprised to hear that South West Airlines has been in business since the 70’s and the ONLY year they were not profitable was their first year in business. Clearly, warm and fuzzy has some weight to it. The speaker did state that while this is their culture that they live and breathe daily they also believe in having strategic leaders in each business segment and that human resources obviously has a large emphasis on their business.

    He referenced a puddle of water and how one drop in the puddle has an effect on it. He described how it creates rings around it and continues on until it reaches the edge. I was inspired by this metaphor as it truly is a wonderful visual on how one drop can affect the rest of the puddle positively, or negatively. He speaks to managers all over the country for the airline demonstrating this idea for them- he tries to instill on each sector that no matter how big or small, we all have a level of influence and we should not take it lightly. We may only manage one person, however that one person may interface with 100 customers each month. If that is the case, then our ring around our puddle is much larger than we thought.

    I am not promoting South West Airlines, however it is hard not to want to fly on their Air line when one hears these stories and it creates such a “positive puddle” I feel it necessary to write in my blog about it!

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