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Southwest Airlines Corporate Culture

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Corporate culture is defined as: “the moral, social, and behavioral norms of an organization based on the beliefs, attitudes, and priorities of its members.” Every organization has its own unique culture or value set; however, most organizations do not consciously try to create a certain culture. The culture of the organization is typically created unconsciously, based on the values of the top management or the founders of an organization.

Southwest Airlines expends a lot of energy in maintaining its workplace culture. Southwest is the only major airline in the U.S. that has been profitable in each of the last five years. It also has a good reputation as an employer. Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s CEO, indicated how Southwest maintained its culture:

“Well, first of all, it starts with hiring. We are zealous about hiring. We are looking for a particular type of person, regardless of which job category it is. We are looking for attitudes that are positive and for people who can lend themselves to causes. We want folks who have a good sense of humor and people who are interested in performing as a team and take joy in team results instead of individual accomplishments.

“If you start with the type of person you want to hire, presumably you can build a work force that is prepared for the culture you desire…

“Another important thing is to spend a lot of time with your people and to communicate with them in a variety of ways. And a large part of it is demeanor. Sometimes we tend to lose sight of the fact that demeanor – the way you appear and the way you act – is a form of communication. We want our people to feel fulfilled and to be happy, and we want our management to radiate the demeanor that we are proud of our people, we are interested in them as individuals and we are interested in them outside the work force, including the good and bad things that happen to them as individuals.”

Southwest Airlines is vigilant about maintaining its’ culture. The behavior rules and boundaries are relatively clear and communicated often. However, this is not typical. I believe most organizations operate with a diversity of cultures. This is especially true considering the increasing worldwide mobility of people and cultures and values.

There is some debate over whether companies should design their personnel policies and reward systems around cultural values. Currently companies tend not to, because of the concern about stereotyping certain cultures. A popular trend is for companies to “reengineer” themselves, which involves an attempt to change their culture, usually to a team orientation.

The importance of corporate culture is growing as the result of several recent developments. Companies are encouraging employees to be more responsible and act and think like owners. In exchange for more flexible work schedules, employees are expected to always be “on-call.” With the demise of more traditional communities, companies are filling employees’ need to belong to a community. At the same time companies are encouraging teamwork and the formation of teams.

There are five key principles that Southwest Airlines uses to inspire and enable its’ employees :

* Capture the hearts and minds of your employees

* Open communication between all levels or your organization

* Create partnerships between all employees built upon trust, equality, and sharing

* Drive learning into every one of your employees

* Emancipate the action of every employee to increase service and profits

In 2004, Southwest received 225,895 resumes and hired 1706 new employees. The corporate staffing department performs a critical gateway function in any company, bringing people from the outside world into the organization. As such, recruiting has a huge impact on the quality of the assembled workforce. Attaining quality in recruiting and deployment is therefore a natural aim of an organization. How do you pursue quality in hiring and placement?

Screening Out Unqualified Candidates.

Recruiting can be viewed as a screening process. This is especially true during periods of high unemployment, when the job market is characterized by an oversupply of talent. Under these conditions, the recruiting function in an organization is to eliminate unqualified people as much as to seek out talent. To improve the quality of an overall recruiting process, each step of the process must be designed to maximize the probability that the candidate ultimately selected meets the expectations of the hiring manager. One way to do this is to maximize the chances that an unqualified candidate is screened out at each step. The following are some key areas in which to focus on quality.

Talent Definition.

To drive quality into a selection and recruiting process, you must first define what quality is. The selection process must be grounded on the foundation of a proper specification of the requirements of the job. You must articulate the abilities, credentials and experience that will bring about success at the job. Once set, these objective criteria inform all aspects of the recruiting process for the position, from the writing of the job description to the criteria employed by an online pre-screening function.

Employment Branding.

The employment brand you project to jobseekers has an important screening role. The corporate Careers website should present a consistent employment brand, and provide visitors with good quality information about the organization, even a realistic portrayal of life working at the company. Cultural fit is as important a factor to the overall quality of hire as the possession of requisite hard and soft skills.

Sourcing Strategy.

It is the function of a sourcing strategy to ensure that employment advertising reaches the right audience. The goal is to maximize exposure to qualified candidates while minimizing exposure to unqualified candidates. A job posting appearing in a media vehicle that has too low a proportion of qualified candidates to unqualified candidates will increase the burden on later stages of the selection process to screen unqualified candidates out. A formal sourcing strategy should be informed by actual sourcing yields.

Job Description.

The job description for a vacancy should provide the candidate ample opportunity to self-screen. It should describe the role, and the activities and responsibilities involved. Moreover, the job description should describe the abilities, credentials and experience possessed by the ideal candidate. Other pieces of information on a job description that give candidates the opportunity to self-screen are salary ranges and details on logistics, such as the location of the vacancy and the amount of business travel involved.


Even an informed sourcing strategy and a carefully crafted job description will not prevent the unqualified from submitting a resume. The selection process must be armed with systems and procedures that ensure these unqualified candidates do not make it to later stages of the internal recruiting process, where costs increase.

Screening on the basis of a resume is a highly subjective process, wholly unsuited to bringing consistency and quality to an organization’s workforce. Resumes are candidate-driven and generally do not contain information sufficient for a recruiter to assess a candidate’s ability to do a job. Furthermore, there are no standards for resume content, meaning that the information common on all resumes received by a recruiter is insufficient to make an accurate ranking of candidates. At best, all a recruiter is able to do is look for an indication that the candidate may move forward to the selection next step, such as a phone screen.

The function of a selection process is to predict who will be successful at a job. Unlike the raw materials and steps in a manufacturing process, people have an element of unpredictability, so it may be asking too much of a program of continuous improvement of an internal recruiting and selection system to attain a high degree of accuracy in the prediction of quality of fit for a job. However, the fundamental goal–to strive for process perfection through continuous improvement–is eminently applicable to the processes of corporate staffing departments.

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