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Ready for Takeoff: Southwest’s SWALife employee blog

3 min read

Digital Technology

We’ve all heard about the extraordinary corporate culture at Southwest Airlines. They hire for attitude, train for skill. Employees are free to be themselves on the job. Wackiness like rapping flight attendants is championed. Halloween celebrations are giant team-building exercises. Employees who go above and beyond the call of duty are awarded Operation Kick Tail “kick tailograms” that render them eligible for employee recognition prizes. They have a five-person team dedicated to supporting employees who need a little extra support for events in their personal lives. Their employees volunteer to be in their commercials.

80% of the SWA staff says they work at Southwest because of the culture.

“Culture is what you sell to your employees,” Cultural Activities Team Lead Mallory Messina told a group at yesterday’s SXSW session Beyond BBQs: The Future Of Corporate Culture. But it’s not all fun and games. Putting the power of their brand in employees’ hands means that they expect a lot in return — namely for their team of 35,000+ to live “The Southwest Way:”

  • Have a servant’s heart. Volunteer. Put others first. Ask what can you do for your co-workers. Southwest has a 100% voluntary employee-funded catastrophic charity whose funds are available to staff in times of need. After Hurricane Katrina displaced SWA employees, for example, preloaded gift cards were subsidized by co-workers to get people through the first few months.
  • Have a warrior spirit. Do what it takes to get the job done, even against the formidable adversity airlines can face each day.
  • Have a fun “LUV-ing” attitude. This is a critical aspect of the corporate mandate.

“Employees are our #1 customers. If employees are happy, customers are happy,” Messina said. And the credo does translate to consumers. Southwest has more than 1 million followers on Twitter, 770,000 Facebook friends and one of the most active Fortune 500 blogs — complete with good and bad customer comments.

Building on these significant social media successes, this week Southwest is launching SWALife, a closed, employee-only blog where SWA staff are encouraged to talk to each other.

Challenges the Southwest communications team faced in creating their internal blog include:

  • Anonymous comments. SWA decided employees had to post their name along with their comments. Accountability goes both ways.
  • Quality assurance. They’ve learned a lot from their corporate blog about post monitoring.  Although all staff submissions will go through the communications department for a quick screen before posting, they will not be heavily censored.  Good and bad will both be posted.
  • Shift in information delivery. 80% of SWA employees do not sit at a computer all day. They’ve been conditioned to expect company news in a bundle every morning at 6 AM EST via e-mail, and now the news will be streamed throughout the day.  One way they’re going to manage that is to require login to swalife to “clock in.”

It’s great to know that even companies who seemingly have mastered the art of corporate culture are still learning every day and pushing the envelope to make Southwest Airlines an even healthier, more social place to work.

In a business where people and attitudes set them apart, this stuff really matters.

Image credit, Southwest Airlines