Assessment Case Study Southwest Airlines

Assessment Case Study Southwest Airlines
7BSP1299 Strategic HRM Module, Semester B 2020/21

Time-constrained Assessment Case Study: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines (SW) offers short-haul, low-cost, point-to-point service between mid-size cities and secondary airports in large cities in the USA. SW avoids large airports and does not fly great distances. Its customers include business travellers, families and students. SW’s frequent departures and low fares attract price-sensitive customers who otherwise would travel by bus or car, and convenience-oriented travellers who would chose a full-service airline on other routes. The number of frequent flyers of the airline continues to grow year on year.

Unlike full-service airlines, SW tailors all of its activities to deliver low-cost, convenient service on its particular type of route. Through fast turnarounds at the gate of only 15 minutes it is able to keep planes flying longer than its rivals and provide frequent departures with fewer aircraft. SW does not offer meals, assigned seating, interline baggage checking, or premium classes of service. Automated ticketing at the gate encourages customers to by-pass travel agents, allowing SW to avoid commissions. A standardised fleet of modern aircraft boosts the efficiency of maintenance. With no meals, no seat assignment, and no interline baggage transfer, SW avoids having to perform activities that are known to slow down other airlines. It selects airports and routes to avoid the congestion that introduce delays. The airline’s strict limits on the type and length of routes make standardised aircraft possible.

Part of the answer to rapid gate turnaround, which allows more frequent departures and greater use of aircraft, is the company’s well-paid gate and ground crews, whose flexibility in turnarounds is enhanced by flexible union rules. The company also has a high level of employee share ownership, which helps to motivate staff.

The airline’s mission statement is posted every three feet at all SW locations:

‘Follow the Golden Rule – treat people the way you want to be treated’.

It’s a philosophy that starts with how the company treats its employees. The co-founder, Herb Kelleher, was adamant that “a happy and motivated workforce will essentially extend their goodwill to SW’s customers”. If the airline took care of its employees, the employees would take care of the customers, and the shareholders would win too. The airlines approach to recruitment is based on recruiting staff that demonstrate high levels of awareness of other people. Also hiring employees with substance, willing to say what they think and committed to doing things differently. Similarly, SWs bespoke training programmes at the SW University demonstrate to staff how their role fits with other people. The development of a diverse workforce is critical to SW, both in its commitment to eliminating unfair discrimination and compliance with US legislation on Affirmative Action, but also in the belief that workforce diversity enables business success.

From the first days of the airline, Kelleher resisted establishing traditional hierarchies within the company. Low spans of control are encouraged for first-line managers to enable them to support staff. Described as an “egalitarian spirit”, conflict resolution is encouraged, rather than trying to “hide” tensions. Kelleher insisted on a collaborative approach to management that involved his associates at every step. Colleen Barrett, who went from working as his legal secretary to being the president of the airline, is living proof of this philosophy.

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