Southwest Airlines Culture Term Paper

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culture in an organization using Southwest Airlines as a model. It uses Geert Hofstede Four Dimension of Culture to analyze the company and provides an over view of how the company's policies enable it to secure a top position in the industry. It uses 5 sources in MLA Format.

Globalization has changed the way people do business today. Factors like strategies, resources or capacity to produce has become secondary to business agendas. Instead today businesses and businesspeople are more concerned with how they can achieve the maximum productivity and prosperity through alliances. These alliances often span far and wide, pilfering to foreign cultures. Often the alliances prove beneficial to the companies because of observation and approach companies take to deal with partner company's culture. On the other hand there are also cases where the alliances have resulted in losses because partner companies fail to understand each other's culture. For instance an American firm merging with a Japanese company will experience a shocking difference in social, economical and cultural environment. Before studying other's culture, one therefore has to observe one's own culture in order to detect what needs to be compromised or complimented when dealing with the business partners. The following is a study of Southwest Airlines, outlining their cultures and how they have incorporated it to achieve their business agendas using Geert Hofstede's Four Dimension of Culture.

Hofstede's Four Dimensions of Culture

Geert Hofstede provides us with a break through formula to study the degree of differences in cultures and how it could change business transactions. Although he only outlines the kind of cultures existent in certain countries, using IBM's branches as a platform, his work provides students of management a guideline to analyze how differences of countries affect the internal culture of businesses. It is important to understand the nature of a culture of a country. From it one can easily understand the way they will likely to do businesses in the future and the consequences of their decisions. The four dimensions which will be used as a guideline in analyzing Southwest are as follows:

Power Distance (unequal vs. equal). This basically means the limitations and scope of a culture values power in an organization. Whether it likes to have concentrated power or distributed power among management leaders for organizing business transaction.

Uncertainty Avoidance (rigid vs. flexible). This means the degree with which the company / culture is willing to adopt risk and willingness to face the consequences. Some organizations tend to stick to policies and regulations and ignore foreign cultures while others alter their own to adopt new cultures, constantly innovating.

Individualism/Collectivism (individual vs. group identification). Some organizations adopt a group mode of operation while others prefer to have individual operation so that proper credits are given to the one with the most innovative ideas and drive.

Masculinity/Femininity (ego attainment vs. social connection). Assertiveness and aggressiveness are attributed to masculinity while motivation, values etc. are attributed to feminity [Hofstede, 1980].

Southwest Airlines - Application of the Four Dimension Culture

One of the United States' largest airline company, Southwest Airlines has 30 years of airline history to back its company culture, the position it maintains and the vision for a successful future where other airlines have failed to achieved. With 55 destinations, across 29 states of America, Southwest has been able to upkeep its reputation among consumers, employees and stakeholders. Started in 1971, the merely served as a low cost air carrier and gradually developed to 258 Boeing 737 jets [Southwest Official website, 2002].

1. Uncertainty Avoidance

One of the main reasons why Southwest is the most preferred place to work with is the low turnover rate of 3-4%. The company believes in long-term thinking, avoiding lay offs as much as possible even during the most troublesome period of economical upheaval. Experts observed. It maintains the best customer services record in the industry which comes naturally to Southwest as they show an acute sense of commitment to both their internal and external customers.

2. Feminity

The company's policy to maintain minimal turnover is a characteristics of a feminine management where creating valuable employment at the firm is more important then mere profitability. It must also be noted that this very culture enable the company to build a trusting relationship with the employees, making it easy for them to commit to the organization. It is due to this dedication and commitment that they are willing to dedicate their time despite the crunch of the economy.

3. Power distance

One would expect that such an organization would have distributed power distance. Yet the main driving force behind this management style and preservation of the organization culture is attributed to the exclusive leadership of Kelleher. The employees' belief in his leadership is embedded in the organization's ability to follow suit to their policies even in the most critical time in the industry. That is why although other airlines continue to close down, bankrupt Southwest remains in the industry. It boosts up productivity with time and continues to expand. With a formal organization, where the hierarchy of upper management is characterized by a committee and the major decision function lies in the hand of Kelleher, Southwest's employees do not resist to this power play because they recognize the values created for them during their tenure [Yung, 1999].

4. Individualism / collectivism

According to Kelleher, the success of the company is because of their culture. "Our esprit de corps is the core of our success. That's most difficult for a competitor to imitate. They can buy] all the physical things. The thing you can't buy is dedication, devotion, loyalty -- feeling you are participating in a cause or a crusade" [Yung, 1999]. By making the organization's visions as the goals for every member, Kelleher have established "crusade-like" missions for everyone to achieve. Communicating this to the lower staff becomes easier because he has managed to merge the organization's vision to those of the individuals. In attaining costs, they in turn will maintain their own compensation. The saved up cost has enabled the company to expand from Dallas to other parts of the country. Yet despite this the collective atmosphere in the company is sustained. There are regular parties, get togethers and sharing of overall organization goals [Yung, 1999].

Hindrances and progressive factors

Employees at Southwest were always willing to innovate, redirect their ideas to accommodate costs. This proved to be highly effective for the company's progress as the organization established itself among rivals like American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines. When the industry was swamped by discounted fares it was the communication of saving cost which saved the company from bankruptcy and high turnovers. Southwest's workforce "close knit culture" is one of the major reasons why the company has been successful.

Realizing that with progress the company will also have to expand in terms of employment, it did not fail to include culture sustenance program to nurture the Southwest culture. A culture activities department has been erected specifically for this purpose. The department takes care of issues like worker's burnout, motivation, personal attention through orientation, employee communication through hotline service etc.

The company's three prized quality that helped sustained the environment it maintains today are: creativity, independence and a sense of humor. This has proved imperative for the development of the employees which in turn proved useful for the development of the company. According to the report by Katherine Yung "The culture committee has spawned everything from "Hokey Days, " where some committee members clean up an airplane to give flight attendants a break, to company cookouts to "Heroes of the Heart," a tribute to behind-the-scenes employees." [Yung, 1999]. The two way communication channel in the organization structure helps them to divert their day-to-day business agenda easily to the last member of the "family" and ensures its achievement.

Yet with this rosy picture of Southwest, the author cannot help but discern concentration of power distance in the top management. Despite its claims Southwest is very much dependent on its leader Kelleher and his spirit. Even when they heard of his illness, the company already seems to buzz with uncertainty. The reason being that most of the innovative ideas that collects the employee and generate motivational feelings among the workers stems from him. Even the set up of the culture department has been an active step towards sustenance but the fact remains the same - the department look to Kelleher to dictate the various activities that would generate coalition between management and lower staff. For instance he and his management team takes part in the operation of the company right from flight attendance to piloting once every 3 months. This shows his commitment. However, there are no active contributions by other members, or implementation without his approval. One good example is his personal memo to the whole company asking them to help the company save energy during the fuel crises [Fortune, 04-17-2000, pp 186+]. It took Southwest only six weeks to save…[continue]

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