Former Southwest Airlines CEO, Herb Kelleher, gained a competitive advantage over competitors like United, Delta, and Northwest by treating the airline’s employees with dignity and respect. The airlines all had unionized workers, but Kelleher believed Southwest had to dignify its customers by treating its workers right. Kelleher issued 20% of Southwest’s stock to employees to increase their motivation to treat customers well. During Kelleher’s time at the company, United, Delta, and Northwest all experienced damaging strikes by their unions, while Southwest remained profitable. The strikes caused thousands of passengers to miss their flights driving these airlines into bankruptcy (Jones, 2007).
Managing complex relations with pilots, cabin crews, and mechanics affected customer satisfaction for Southwest Airlines (Jones, 2007). Happy workers resulted in happy customers. Southwest Airlines remains one of the most profitable airlines today. Many companies in the airline and other industries today fail to value the importance of building and managing relations with workers.
In my personal experience, I have found managing employee relations can improve performance. I turned around a financially troubled university with a heavily unionized workforce by paying attention to the value of the workers and forging improved relations with them. I fail to grasp why many organizations have such a hard time understanding that happy employees produce happy customers. Happy customers breed new customers and grows the organization.
I would like to hear your thoughts on why building improved relations with workers has become so difficult today. I argue customers and workers are equally if not more important than shareholders. Please let me know your comments or let me know if you want to learn more.
Jones, G. R. (2007). Organizational theory, design, and change (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.