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Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines Prove It

One of the seven strategies in “The Amazement Revolution” is Walk the Walk. That means that you don’t say one thing and do something else.  You are genuine and what you see is what you get. One of the role models in this strategy is Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines. If you’ve been reading any of my material, you know there has always been an emphasis on internal service.  The Employee Golden Rule, as I call it, is to treat employees the way you want the customer treated – maybe even better.  Herb Kelleher and Southwest are model examples of that rule in action. From the very beginning, Kelleher believed in an employee-first approach which, at the time, was considered an extremely controversial first principle as management philosophies go.  But Kelleher really meant it, and he insisted on it for sound strategic reasons.  When you build a company around the idea of taking care of employees, taking care of customers becomes easier for everyone. As Kelleher himself put it: “Years ago, business gurus used to apply the business school conundrum to me: ‘Who comes first? Your shareholders, your employees, or your customers?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s easy,’ but my response was heresy at that time. I said employees come first and if employees are treated right, they treat the outside world right, the outside world uses the company’s product again, and that makes the shareholders happy. That really is the way that it works, and it’s not a conundrum at all.” This was Kelleher’s “mantra.”  He lived and breathed the strategy that the success of Southwest Airlines starts with an employee-first approach.  It became embedded within the working culture of the company.  Kelleher’s insistence on this point is, I believe, the real reason that the airline has succeeded so memorably at a time when so many of its competitors have faltered.  Following this philosophy, Kelleher built a community of employees who walked the walk, and he eventually handed the company over to executives who walked the walk.  The transition was seamless—one of the reasons why Southwest is still an amazing organization! Shep Hyken is a customer service/CX expert, award-winning keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling author. Learn more about Shep’s customer service and customer experience keynote speeches and his customer service training workshops at Connect with Shep on LinkedIn. (Copyright ©MMXI, Shep Hyken)

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