Saturday, July 18, 2015

Southwest Doesn't "Stubbornly Stay the Course"

Southwest's history has been riddled with industry and economic challenges. Their business model was contested by other airlines, they worked through issues to expand, and they faced the same challenges presented by changing airline security standards as those in their field. What helped Southwest find success through these challenges was the fact that the stayed true to their mission and strategy. They did not ditch their strategies and they stayed the course to avoid failure.

Southwest had innovative methods to find a competitive edge in the airline industry. Their image as a "low-fare, high-maintenance service" was supported by their strategies to reduce boarding times for cost savings and better customer experience, to hedge fuel prices to deliver low cost services, and to create a positive environment for staff and customers. As the case study states, their strategy was "fueled by the low fares that made it possible" (p. 2).

In a heavy customer services industry, it would be easy for an organization to succumb to trends to deliver customers immediate satisfaction. Instead of being reactive, Southwest conducted analysis when considering a shift in strategy. For example, when they received feedback that customers were unhappy with the boarding process, Southwest conducted a thorough survey to better understand its customers' needs. From this survey, they found they didn't need to change their strategy to satisfy customers. More importantly, it seems they would have been willing to do so if the data suggested it. Southwest's ability to be nimble and open to changing, but only after vetting changes, is one way they avoided Carroll and Mui's pitfall of "stubbornly staying the course." By researching and using data, Southwest learned about its customers and their needs, which supported their mission and strategy of providing excellent service.

Carroll and Mui share that, "companies...falter because they don’t consider all the options." Southwest walked the fine line of staying true to their strategy while also understanding that the strategy may need to change based on shifting markets and conditions. Considering new options was never out of the question so long as it supported their goals, mission, and broader strategy. They were not too proud to consider other options when the market required it. Instead of being stubborn, they were nimble, open, and innovative, which enabled them to avoid failure and find success.


Southwest’s story is a good reminder to stick with a strategy, even if it’s tempting not to. Asking the question “to what problem is this a solution?” would serve an organization well when considering veering from their strategy. I’ve noticed a trend in organizations I’ve worked for, which is to automatically switch paths based on trends, quick fixes, and one off remarks from individuals. Instead of researching these ideas and making sure they align with the goals of the organization, the tendency has been to shift immediately, which I have never witness work successfully. Instead, it is confusing to employees, causing momentary chaos, and causes everyone to question the credibility of the organization. Unless veering from the course has meaningful evidence, sticking to the plan, like Southwest did, is a surer path to success for organizations’ strategic goals.

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