Culture at 30,000 Feet Above Ground

Professor and Consultant
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Anne Morriss: In our world view, excellence equals design times culture.  So, half the battle is getting the design of the organization right, and these are things like choosing very strategically where to excel and where to underperform.  And that’s a design function. And you have to make sure that the business model works and that it can scale and that it’s systematically setting people up to perform.  The other half is culture. And, you know, one of the reasons that culture matters so much in service organizations is that, we need our employees to every day on the front lines make decisions that end up defining the customer experience.  In managing those employees, the handbook only gets you so far.  You know, you – and part of that is because customers are wildly, wonderfully unpredictable.  You don’t know on the front lines of a service organization what’s going to happen moment to moment.  And culture tells you what to do, where – when there isn’t a policy or precedent.  And so it’s a hugely important asset in service organizations.  

Frances Frei:  So Southwest Airlines, the reason we love it is that it’s in perhaps the worst industry of all time.  So the industry has essentially destroyed more value than its created since its inception.  And then there’s Southwest, who’s profitable every year.  Every year for one decade every year for another decade, every year, for another decade . . . They do it by this beautiful elegance of focus.  They are very comfortable saying, “We do this, we don’t do that,” which means they have great strategy.  And they’re very great at delivering excellence because they say, "We’ll do these things well: turnaround time, being on time.  We’ll do these things badly: . . ."  Go onboard a Southwest Airlines flight and ask someone for a full meal.  They have no shame, no apology - they might mock you a little bit in their reply.  They understand what they’re optimized to be great at.  They understand what they have to give up in order to deliver on that, and they understand that from the top of the organization all the way down to the bottom. 

Anne Morriss:  One of the things that Southwest does in a training experience is they get everyone, all the new recruits in a room and they have everyone stand up and share their most embarrassing moment.  So, people in the moment think, "This is pretty hardcore.  I mean, they’re testing us for poise and our ability to communicate in a stressful situation."  And it turns out, Southwest isn’t looking at the speaker, they’re looking at everyone else, and they’re looking for signs of empathy.  And so when they see signs of empathy in that crowd, those are the people that they end up hiring.  So, it’s, you know, it’s a great example of distinct clarity on the values that are important to them and figuring out how to find them in the hiring process.

Frances Frei: Excellence is design times culture.  You have to get the design right and you have to get the culture right.  Great design, bad culture, won’t work.  Great culture, bad design, won’t work.  We need both, and Southwest is just a magnificent illustration of both.  

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd