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Human Resource Management Assignment

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Southwest Airlines was chosen to analyze the efficiency of human resources department’s strategies and practices because this company was the bright example of creating a unique corporate culture where open-door policies and exceptional employees’ commitment was a drive for progress.  This paper critically analyzes the existing HR policies implemented at Southwest Airlines, their impact on the employees behavior and productivity and their fit into the established business objectives.

Southwest Airlines is the leading airline company in the USA. In 2011 the Company recorded $15.7 billion of consolidated operating revenues. It employs more than 45 000 people. It is unbelievable that Southwest Airlines has been operating for more than 40 years in this industry and each year demonstrates high level of profitability (Southwest Airlines One Report, 2011). If the reporter asks a passenger of Southwest Airlines about their experience of flying with these airlines, they will receive the following answer, ‘In case someone is searching for a smiling, cheering and friendly personnel, waiting for the fun during the flight and the good mood overall - then Southwest is what this person needs’.

It should be stated that the main business objectives of the Southwest Airlines are:

-  to provide high quality service while remaining a low-cost carrier;

-  to enlarge existing network with the new destinations, thus, increase the market share;

-  to be the industry’s leader with the lowest level of customers’ complaints;

-  to provide high levels of profits to the shareholders (Southwest Airlines One Report, 2011).

It should be pointed that “dedication of the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit” is a mission of the Southwest Airlines declared at the Southwest Airlines official website (2012). Company’s corporate culture that helps to implement such a mission into reality can be characterized as open and facilitating innovation inflow whereas it encourages “development, improvement, and refinement of the originality, individuality, identity and personality of given people” (Southwest Airlines official website, 2012).

According to Smith (2004) “Southwest’s unique culture, called “goofiness by some individuals” keeps the morale of its employees high” (p.26). The author underlined that Southwest’s employees are more flexible, creative and productive comparing to their colleagues from the other US airlines. Southwest pilots and flight attendants fly almost twice as much time per month as their colleagues. Another essential issue in the HR policy is that the company did not lay off its employees even during the toughest times, for instance, after the September 11 attacks. All employees without any strikes agreed to salaries cuts despite the fact that more than 80 percent of them were members of the labor unions. 

It should be emphasized that the colorful and unique corporate culture of Southwest Airlines starts with its top management. Tradition to be original, showing friendly attitude and guaranteeing open communication was established by the former CEO Kelleher. This person with the help of his charisma, preaching of a freedom to experiment within the Company, trust in subordinates and continuous service quality improvement turned small regional airlines in a huge organization and a market leader. HR department supports and develops such an approach to a business conducting and employee-employer efficient relationships, where the employee is the number one value and main asset that the Company has (Dawna, 2006).

Key milestones that determine HR policies of the Southwest are described below. The main postulate is the following: Company deals with its employees in the same manner the employees treat Company’s clients. Business is conducted at the Southwest Airlines from the bottom-up perspective. Employees’ desire to feel themselves like at home and even some irreverence are not prohibited because any barriers even behavioral are considered to be a limitation of freedom for experiments. Any restriction in the corporate culture of the Company is the way to stagnation. HR department facilitates a “joy culture”, that is employees perceive the working responsibilities and duties not as a hard obligatory work but as an opportunity to demonstrate their leadership skills and share their success with others. The essential principle that everyone in the Southwest Airlines follows is to do the maximum possible in every effort whatever it costs. Another important factor is that employees are hired for their positive attitude to people. HR department believes that negative attitude to people and work as a whole cannot be changed, and that necessary level of skills can be obtained after numerous trainings provided by the Company. HR department conducts such a policy that “employees see themselves not as an airline with great customer service but as a great customer service organization that happens to be an airline” (Laszlo, 1999, p.90).

Therefore, various professional trainings are conducted by the Company on a regular basis. Southwest Airlines invests in their employees and offers a possibility to learn and grow professionally. In 2011 total training hours for the pilots accounted for 165,000, for the flight attendants amounted to 295,194 hours, for specialists in customer and support services for 245,179 hours. HR department of the Southwest Airlines established and supported the center for employees’ professional trainings and development called University for People. In Southwest Airlines HR department does not limit the possibility to have leadership authority for only front line and top managers. Each employee could improve his/her leadership skills through taking part in the numerous trainings devoted to the personal growth and full realization of person’s potential. The main task of the HR department is to cultivate true leaders that will be inspirer for others and the example of how dedicated could be the employee to the company. It should be underlined that “leadership development is focused on developing People, building great Teams, thinking strategically, and being a change Leader” (Southwest Airlines One Report, 2011).

Employees’ selection and employment process is also special at Southwest Airlines. While other companies take the time to multi-week selections, multi-level testing and interviews with an infinite number of department heads, Southwest Airlines hire employees for their attitude. HR department does not apply personality tests. It is promoted in the company to hire those people who are kind, enthusiastic, respectful and tolerant and who will treat the customers in the same manner (Mouawad, 2010). 

Bailey (2008) states HR department of the company during an economic crisis and at present puts an emphasis on the nonfinancial stimuli such as informal competition among the employees on the best decision proposed on enhancing the quality of services provided or cost reduction. This is an example of healthy competition that is rewarded by the company by the title of the “Star of the month”.

 It is stated in the Southwest Airlines one report (2011) “our People are our greatest strength and an enduring long-term competitive advantage”. HR department gives an opportunity for everyone to become a part of the strange but genuine and sincere corporate culture if the person fit the main behavioral principles that are milestones of Southwest Airlines operational activity. They are warrior spirit, a servant heart and “fun-luving” attitude. LUV is a NYSE abbreviation with a hidden meaning of love as the driving force in this organization. Warrior spirit implies a desire to be the best, hard work but understanding that the company observes and appreciates time given for its welfare development, innovation, problems solving with a sense of urgency, perseverance and courage to maintain the true personality. A servant heart requires employees to treat others with respect and embrace the Southwest Family. “Fun-loving” attitude as a most distinguishing feature of the corporate culture implies that the employees should not take themselves too seriously, celebrate successes and be a passionate team player. When HR specialist welcomes a new incomer, they underlined that they have become a member of Southwest family. Employees admitted that they did not distinguish themselves as separate performers, all the staff works as a team, where mutual support, respect and cooperation underlie success (Chernatony & Segal-Horn, 2003).

HR department of Southwest Airlines underlines that engagement and recognition is one of the most important policies that the department develops. The company listens to the proposals, suggestions and complaints of its employees, tries to resolve conflicts immediately. Naturally, motivation of the employees possesses a decisive role. The Company does not miss the moments such as celebrating of the Southwest’s 40th Anniversary to unite hearts of their employees. Such award programs as President’s Award, Winning Spirit Award, Kick Tail-A-Gram, Heroes of the Heart encourage high working efficiency and operational excellence. The results are published at the web site and in the specialized magazine Spirit that is dedicated to cover the best events in the history of the Company.

  As the HR expert who examines the initial HR procedures, policies and investing strategies of the Southwest Airlines, I can state with a confidence that other service organizations should learn and take an example of this organization. Customers are important for Southwest Airlines, but employees are the members of its family. They feel themselves needed; regard the opportunity to raise welfare of the Company as a chance to a personal growth and realm for individuality and leadership skills demonstrating.   

In our modern time, the market competition wins that one who knows how to surprise and to be different. HR department was able to guarantee its employees called “Our People” the right and freedom for experimenting, training and continuous improvement of their skills and knowledge, not only in the professional field but also in the leadership area. Can-do approach to any task is a challenge primarily for the employee himself. Showing the own example of having positive attitude and respect to anyone, knowing that the company highly evaluates employee’s efforts and skills, being sure that these efforts will be rewarded in different ways from financial stimuli to the public recognition of employee’s personality explains the existence of such a unique, friendly family corporate culture. Such position taken by Southwest Airlines that “our Employees are near and dear to our hearts” shows how essential is the attention to the employee’s individuality, fair assessment the talents and aspirations of employees.

It is an acknowledged fact that recent acquisition of the AirTran caused some difficulties of the transitional period with the necessity of two teams integration and new destinations serving. Taking into account the possible increased turnover and competition from the other low-cost carrier the main recommendation for the HR department is not to lose the uniqueness of existing staff selection, which allows the Company to find real talents, creative people willing to bring fresh ideas to the service.

HR policies implemented at Southwest Airlines are efficient because they fully support established business objectives. The evidence of numerous public recognitions proves this statement. Southwest Airlines is the best company in the US airline industry according to the leading positions in American Customer Satisfaction Index (2012). Southwest Airlines is the most desirable brand among American citizens according to the Forbes magazine study (Smith, 2012). Overall, courage HR strategies results in keeping Company’s corporate culture as the most famous in the industry for the high level of employees’ engagement and commitment. Moreover, creation of the unforgettable experience that remains in memory of consumers while flying with Southwest is a challenging task that every employee performs in the best way on each minute basis.

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