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An Analysis of Organisational Culture

1 Background of Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is a major American airline and pioneer in low-fare air transportation in the world, based in Dallas, Texas. Southwest Airlines is known for its low prices and no-frills service. Based on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s most recent data, Southwest is the nation’s largest carrier in terms of boarding domestic passengers. (Southwest Airlines, 2014) Southwest Airlines was founded in 1967 by Rolling King and Herb Kelleher. It started its operation in 1971 covering intrastate Texas cities, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

Originally, the airline was only serving Texan cities but few years later, the company has progressively enlarged its service to other American states. Southwest Airlines was able to differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering the lowest prices.

At first, many practices of Southwest Airlines had been see as irregular and had been disdain by other airlines. However, it’s Low-cost strategy has won a great victory in the US especially, when the airline industry suffered difficulties after the terrorist attack.

In 2011, the acquisition of Air Tran Airways allowed Southwest Airlines to serve international destinations in five near-international countries. According to the Southwest Airlines’ official report, the airline has nearly 46,000 employees and operates more than 3,400 flights per day. Southwest Airlines has acquired many awards, such as it had been ranked as 18th on the World’s Most Respected Companies by Financial Times (2011) and was given the title; the world’s most admired companies for 20 consecutive years in Fortune’s 2014 list.

2 Induction of The Practice

In the United States, Southwest Airlines has been the most successful airline in its industry.

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This success is largely due to its effective human resource practices, most of which fall under the rubric of employee. A study by Miles, S,J. & Mangold, W,G. (2005), demonstrate an interview with Colleen Barrett, President and Chief Operating Officer of Southwest Airlines that she credited Southwest’s success to its employees. On the hand, In 2008, a large number of companies cut jobs in order to face Global Financial Crisis. However, Dickler, J. (2008) reported that Southwest Airlines is committed to avoiding layoffs at all costs during the recession and employees in the company have never felt that their job is in jeopardy due to the economy. Research by Glassdoor blog (2010) indicated that Southwest Airlines is the best company to work for. Clearly, Southwest Airlines focuses its attention on its employees.

Kotter researched the corporate culture and performance (2012) and come to the conclusion that organizational culture has the ability to improve organizational performance and employee job satisfaction. Southwest Airlines demonstrated a perfect performance in terms of corporate culture. Over the years, the company has imposed a strong corporate culture that made the company even stronger. I will apply Schein’s framework to approach practice of Southwest Airlines that the company centers around the relation privileged with its employees and the employee focused culture lead to Southwest Airlines successful. By adapting the Schein framework, we can approach understanding of the organizational culture of Southwest Airlines.

3 Justification of Framework

There are many reasons using Schein’s framework to analyze organizational culture. First, He divided culture into three levels, namely artifacts, values and basic assumptions. These levels are used as a basis for assessing any organizational culture.( Comer, M., n.d.) Therefore the framework can be used to analyze dimensions of organizational culture influence employees in Southwest airline. Second, it is a popular viewpoint be used in many literatures on organization culture. (Sun, S.,2008) Third, Alvesson & Berg, (1992) indicate that the framework having received less criticism. Moreover, Kong, S. H. (2000) and Miles, S,J., Mangold, W,G. (2005) also indicated Schein’s three levels model has capability to combine a number of perspectives in cultural studies.

Additional, An onion diagram of organizational culture that developed by Hofstede et al. (1997) is based on Schein’s model. Hofstede divided culture in to four layers that include symbols, heroes, rituals and values. The similarities between both models are focused on the physical assumptions that shape the ideology of culture and lead to the norms and values. However, the model of Schein encompasses more aspects than the model of Hofstede.

On the other hand, there are some critiques of Schein model form scholars viewpoints. First, Hatch, M. J. (1993). indicates that Schein’s model is lack of the dynamic role of assumptions and beliefs in creating and changing organizational culture. Second, Tuan, L,T. and Venkatesh, S. (2010) proposed the model developed by martins extend more on the interaction between the organizational sub-systems, the two survival functions, namely the external environment and the internal systems, and the culture dimensions.

4 Explanation of Framework

Schein (2004) defined organizational culture as a “dynamic phenomenon that surrounds us at all times, being constantly enacted and created by our interactions with others and shaped by leadership behavior, and a set of structures, routines, rules, and norms that guide and constrain behavior”. To fully understand the meaning of culture, he defined organizational culture consists with three levels as represented in Figure. 1

First level of Schein’s model is the most visible indicator of culture that consists of artefacts and creations. Artefacts represent the physical construct of the organization and its social environment and provide a superficial glimpse of an organization’s culture because the true significance or meaning that lies behind their use can be difficult to decipher and interpret.( Pierce J, G. 2004) The surface of a culture can be easily observed from Physical layout of the building, Communication methods, Dress code, social interplay and informal structure. According to Brown, G (2014) Organizational artifacts and creations be split into six characteristics :

Norms are the assumptions made by employees following historical evidence as to the normal ways of achieving things in the organization. Language is the way managers speak a business term to subordinates and vice versa is a clear indicator of culture. ( Brown, G. 2014) Symbols used as the way of communicating that associated with culture. Rites demonstrated by the collective interpersonal behavior and values constitute formal or informal culture structures. Myths and stories are narrative based on events that shared among employees and used as a method of communicating core values. Taboos are the indicators of what should not be done in the organization. Those institutionalized artefacts serves as a guide to channel behaviours toward desired behavious that vest fit the value of organizational culture. Figure 1. Model of culture indicating different levels of culture

Second level of Schein’s model examines the values and beliefs of the organization. Values provide organizational members with a sense of the moral and ethical codes which shape an organization. Such values and beliefs include trust, effort, basis of reward and honesty; these must be followed through to growth a culture. Schein believed that organizational values are not as apparent as organizational artifacts. However, he states that they do exist at a greater level of awareness than “basic underlying assumptions,” which he identifies as his third level of cultural manifestation. ( Pierce J, G., 2004)

The latest is the most important since as Schein puts it “Human minds needs cognitive stability and any challenge of a basic assumption will release anxiety and defensiveness”. The third and core level of organizational cultural performance is basic assumptions. These basic assumptions especially from the continuous use of a problem solution that are often so fundamental and repeatedly been successful in the past and has unconsciously been taken for granted. Typical basic assumptions include: the basis on which individuals are respected, the basis of the firms’ ability to compete, the use of involvement and participation and How and whom makes decisions. (Brown, G. 2014) According to Comer, M. ( n.d.), the best way to identify underlying assumptions is through a process meeting where artifacts are listed, values discussed and underlying assumptions are reviewed.

Schein’s three levels of the manifestation of organizational culture can be depicted as an iceberg as presented in figure 2, with the most visible level at the top which is artefacts. In the iceberg metaphor, organizational values, are closer to the surface and provide a more accurate assessment of the organization’s culture. However, the true scope of the culture still remains hidden beneath the surface. (Pierce, J, G., 2004) the basic assumptions of an organization’s culture lies beneath the surface and is very difficult to recognized.

Figure 2. Iceberg Conceptual Model of Schein’s Three Levels of the Manifestation of Organizational Culture.

5 An Analysis of The Practice

In the level of artefacts and creations, these visible indicators cab be observed by employee in the southwest airline and outsiders. The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedicated to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. (Southwest, 2015) The culture at Southwest Airlines is visible in many ways.

Norms are informal ground rules that provide guidelines concerning appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a group. (Calvary, W. 2014) In Southwest Airlines, fun and celebrating are the norm.

Southwest Airlines has creating their own language, such as “ passengers are Customers, and love is LUV”. This unusual language style also provides leaders at Southwest Airlines with many opportunities to spread and connect Southwest’s corporate culture together. ( Lauer, C. 2010)

Symbols communicate the culture through unspoken messages and mental images held by employees. Logo of Southwest Airlines with a heart, it shows Southwest Airlines’ spirit with love and employees work with fun and humors.

Southwest Airlines has had several slogans that have indicated company’s value and caught the attention of customers and employee, such as “Just Plane Smart” (Southwest Airlines, 1992). This slogan somewhat promotes a sense of humor that Southwest Airlines have always had that approach in an informal way (Organizational Dynamics, 1992).

Southwest Airlines created many rites to do with employees. Once employees are hired, they are immediately given a celebration greeting into the company (Tyler, 1998). Through the rite in the Southwest Airlines, it shows the warmth and friendly culture in the company.

There are many stories had been share in the Southwest Airlines, such as successful events and failure experiences from employees. Southwest Airlines called the story as LUV Story that enhances the customers’ experience, and that helps employees understand how they should behave in a particular situation

The middle level value and beliefs, values are the foundation for an organization’s mission, vision, and defined by different beliefs of the company. The clearer an organization’s shared perceptions and values are defined, the stronger people can associate with its mission and feel a vital part of it.( Racelis, A ,D., 2009) The core values in the Southwest Airlines are fun loving and spirited.

First, Southwest Airlines focus on the situations, issues, or behavior, not on the person. People in the company should find a solution instead of judging others.

Second, maintain the self confidence and self-esteem of others. Southwest Airlines offer employees not only the internal training programs, but also provide employees with external training whenever they want to advance their careers. Additional, Southwest Airlines also uses an employee recognition program to reinforce employees, such as President’s Award, Winning Spirit Award and Star of the Month. According to the Southwest report, the company will hold an event called Heroes of the Heart every year on Valentine’s Day.

The event takes place at Headquarters in Dallas, where employees with good performance will be awarded by president Colleen Barrett. ( West, R. 2014) People enjoy in it and part of the fun in the party is the surprise when the winning team is announced. The winning Team holds one of the highest honors at Southwest Airlines. Therefore, Southwest Airlines won the hearts and minds of their employees. Deal, T. E., & Key, M. K. (1998) note that Southwest Airlines is a model company in providing both frequent spontaneous praise (acknowledgment) on current behaviors as well as having formal recognition programs which reward past behaviors.

Third, to maintain positive relationships with employees, colleagues and managers, Southwest Airlines focuses on a team environment that enables employees embrace their connections with one another. Southwest Airlines has always placed little emphasis on formal organizational company structure, that employees are given authority to make decisions and Supervisors view their subordinates as internal customers who deserve help in doing their jobs better. (Gittell, J. H. 2004) Fourth, fun and love attitude. Southwest Airlines create an environment that combines humor with responsibility. Southwest Airlines places the highest importance in its selection process on employee that hire for attitude that based on their social skills.

Employees can use any talents they have in order to entertain the customers as long as they make them happy. There are many popular videos about the funny safety speech made by Southwest flight attendant that consists of rapping or singing when they present the safety rules such as Hilarious Southwest Airline Safety Presentation that is recently the most popular video on the internet. A relaxed atmosphere at work makes Southwest Airlines’ employees happy and this also keeps customers coming back because they like this style. It shows that having fun in the working environment is an essential value of the company.

Fourth, Southwest Airlines holds variety events in many fun loving ways to implicate their value. In 2011, the celebration of 40th Anniversary Southwest Airlines held 40th Anniversary parties at three cities—Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio (Southwest Airlines, 2014). Every year Southwest Airlines hosts a huge Halloween party at its Dallas headquarters (West, R. 2014). The events convey beliefs of the fun and loving culture and made it become a tradition at Southwest Airlines.

At the deepest level, basic assumptions are below our awareness. The assumptions that shape the organizational culture can be exposed by observing how employees interact and the decisions they make. Southwest Airlines is noted for operating according to basic assumptions that value employees’ welfare and providing high-quality services. (Qwabe, N. P., n.d.) Southwest Airlines implicates no layoff policy. According to Southwest Airlines’ report (2010), Southwest Airlines offers Employees the freedom to pursue good health, create financial security, travel. Southwest Airlines also has a long tradition of bridging the work divide by seeking to accommodate the needs of families through flexible scheduling and ensuring that managers do not devote too much time to the job at the expense of their families. (Gittell, J. H. 2004) These values and beliefs informs employees of exactly what is expected of them and help them understand the organization.

6 Conclusions

Organizational cultures can have multiple impacts on employee performance. Normally, employees work harder to achieve organizational missions if they immerse themselves in the organizational culture. First, the case of Southwest airlines shows that the company puts its employees in priority that they implement a no layoff policy. Employees feel secure in their job, and enjoy a high level of compensation. In addition, Southwest Airlines sees employees as the greatest assets of the company.

Second, Southwest Airlines creates an happiness environment and operate with the concept, love (LUV). Southwest Airlines encourages employees to work with humor and responsibility, that happy working atmosphere not only greatly improve the efficiency of their work but also get recognized by customers. Third, team work is crucial in the company, Southwest treat employees as family member instead of worker. Southwest creates the maximum welfare to employees and returned loyalty from employees.

The effect of organizational culture relates to its strength. Organizational culture strength based on how broadly and deeply employees hold the company’s values and basic assumptions. In a strong organizational culture, most employees embrace all beliefs and values that through well-established creations and artefacts, as a result of that those values are difficult to change. Furthermore, strong cultures tend to be long-lasting. (Ojo,O. 2009)

According to Sun, shili (2008), a strong culture (one in which beliefs and values are widely shared and strongly held) can also offer many advantages. Southwest creates a strong organizational culture that majority of the people hold the same basic beliefs and values as applies to the organization. The performance of employees improves by strong culture in Southwest Airlines. A strong culture provides Southwest Airlines with immersing everyone in the culture immediately and has awareness of culture. Thereby, every individuals in the Southwest Airlines with shared values that assist employees achieve organizational goals successfully.

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