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Southwest Keeps it Simple
What does your company do?
It sounds like an easy question, but it’s one many leaders – and even more employees – would have a surprisingly hard time answering.
Yet defining the core of what you do and how you do it is a vital communications exercise.
For Southwest Airlines, the core message centers on keeping prices low for consumers.
Herb Kelleher, the longest-serving CEO of Southwest Airlines, is famous among marketing gurus for a story told in Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick. The book’s authors explain how Kelleher had a clear vision for his airline’s operations that centered on keeping fares down for passengers.
But even as CEO, there was only so much Kelleher could do to keep costs down himself. He needed the entire Southwest Airlines workforce to carry out his vision on a daily basis in the name of this ultimate goal.
How did he do it? He kept his message incredibly simple.
“THE low-fare Airline”
As the story goes, Kelleher famously told one of his employees, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds. This is it: We are THE low-fare airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can.”
By boiling his approach down into a single, easy to remember statement, Kelleher was able to instill it into every decision his employees made, from expanding into new markets to offering meals on flights. Doing so resulted in a relentless focus on reducing costs across the entire organization that led to the airline outperforming its competitors.
Made to Stick highlights Kelleher’s story for the simplicity of his message, but the tale offers a valuable lesson in internal employee communications.
A company’s core message can enhance company culture, unite workforces and guide employees in the right direction. But first they have to know what that message is and be able to articulate it.