On The Southwest Airlines Way

I recently finished reading The Southwest Airlines Way – Using the Power of Relationships to Achieve High Performance – by Jody Hoffer Gittell.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “How did this remarkable transformation occur? How did Southwest grow from an idiosyncratic Texas airline to an organization that managers all over the world are seeking to emulate? Efficiency…Quality…Controlled Growth Demand for Reliable Low-Fare Travel…Competitive Threats…Success Factors—Leadership, Culture, Strategy, and Coordination.”

2- “However, leadership is not confined to the CEO. Leadership is better understood as a process that can take place at any level of an organization.^ Indeed, leadership is needed in today’s organizations to motivate, support, and enable employees to work together in support of a set of shared goals.”

3- “In their classic book on organizations, James March and Herbert Simon’ describe the potentially disintegrative effects when employees in an organization pursue their owm functional goals without reference to the over-arching goals of the larger work process. Shared goals play an especially important role when different functions are involved in delivering the same service.”

4- “The three conditions that increase the need for relational coordination—reciprocal interdependence, uncertainty, and time constraints— are increasingly common in the service economy of today. As advanced economies have shifted from a manufacturing to a service focus, work settings that require relational coordination have become increasingly common. Many service operations are characterized by reciprocal interdependence, requiring iterative interactions among service providers rather than the sequential handoffs performed by workers on production lines. Many service operations also have high levels of uncertainty relative to manufacturing due to the difficulty of buffering service operations from the external environment and from differences in customers themselves. Finally, most service settings are highly time-constrained; they are designed to provide a service to customers, real time, simultaneous with the demand, without imposing excessive waiting times on customers.”

5- “Not every leader of a successful organization must be charismatic. What successful organizations do need from each of their leaders, however, is credibility— the ability to inspire trust; and caring—the ability to inspire a belief by employees that their leaders care deeply about their well-being.”

6- “Leadership is better understood as a process that can take place at any level of the organization.”^ Indeed, leadership at the front line can play a critical role in organizational success. Rather than undermining coordination among frontline employees, supervisors play a valuable role in strengthening coordination through day-to-day coaching and counseling.”

7- “Increasingly, jobs require not only functional expertise but also relational competence—the ability to interact with others to accomplish common goals. Indeed, people who perform jobs that require high levels of functional expertise also tend to need high levels of relational competence to integrate their work with the work of fellow employees. Organizations like Southwest Airlines that recognize the importance of relational competence, look diligently for employees who have it, then develop it to even higher levels through training, will have a distinct performance advantage over organizations that do not.”

8- “Organizations should proactively seek out conflicts rather than allowing them to fester. Then managers should bring the parties together to better understand each other’s perspective. If organizations do not identify and resolve cross-functional conflicts, those conflicts will weaken critical relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect. When managers treat cross-functional conflict as an occasion for learning, they strengthen relationships between employees and boost performance of the work processes in which those employees are engaged.”

9- “The energy and learning that employees gain from building strong family and community ties can be brought into the workplace and leveraged to achieve stronger working relationships and better organizational performance. Organizations should therefore be vigilant to ensure that relationships at work do not overwhelm and undermine the family and community relationships that are needed to sustain strong working relationships.”

10- “Though information technology can be a facilitator, it is not expected to be an effective substitute. When a job is mediated largely through a computer or a telephone, an important element of social interaction is lost. The loss of social interaction weakens relationships, and weakens critical performance parameters. These limitations on the effective use of information technology exist because coordination is not simply about the transfer of information. Instead, coordination requires the construction of shared meaning in order to facilitate collective action. As we see at Southwest Airlines, boundary spanners can play this role, building relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect across functional boundaries.”

11- “Traditional measurement systems are flawed because they orient employee attention toward functional rather than cross-functional outcomes and because they provide inadequate information for learning.’ To orient employees toward cross-functional outcomes and to provide more useful feedback about what to do, cross-functional performance measures should be used to supplement traditional functional measurement systems.”

12- “We have seen in this chapter the importance of flexible jobs for building strong relationships and high performance.”

13- “At Southwest Airlines, respectful relationships between company management and the unions chosen by frontline employees appear to set the tone for respectful relationships throughout the company.As Southwest’s leaders pointed out on several occasions, however, positive labor/management relations are not achieved once and for all. Rather they have to be reproduced every day.”

14- “Southwest’s partnership approach is radically different from the traditional approach to supplier relations. In the old model, organizations were independent parties who transacted with each other at arm’s-length through formal contracts, keeping information close to the chest. Cooperation occurred only within organizations, while careful arm’s-length negotiation with minimal information sharing was the normal mode for dealing with parties external to the organization.^ But when there is more uncertainty in the environment, there is much more that organizations can learn from one another. Because of the benefits of learning, both parties have more to gain than to lose from the sharing of information. Although there may be doubt and mistrust at the outset, “nee the cooperative exploration of ambiguity begins, the returns to the partners from further joint discoveries are so great that it pays to keep cooperating.” Ultimately, this ability to partner is an acquired skill like any other, and one with potentially significant effects on organizational success”.


Omar Halabieh

The Southwest Airlines Way


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