Role of Human Resource Management in Helping Organisations Achieve their Strategic Goals
Today, many organizations are having trouble adapting to a rapidly changing business environment, which is occasioned by unpredictable changes in the labor market and varying customer needs and preferences. Several management literatures has explored solutions to this problem by proposing the need to reduce operational costs, redefine business strategies, and enhance workforce capabilities (Mello 2014; Tsai & Yang 2013; Boxall & Purcell 2016). Human resource management (HRM) sits at the center of these proposals. Its importance in service-oriented businesses is more profound because employees are often the first point of contact between companies and customers. To explain the critical role of HRM in addressing these challenges, this paper investigates how its principles have helped to shore up the activities of Southwest airlines. Part of this analysis involves understanding how two HRM theories (best practice model and best-fit model) help to explain the airline’s competitive advantage in the industry. However, before delving into this analysis, it is, first, important to understand Southwest Airline’s mission and background.
Background, Mission, and Strategies of Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines is one of America’s most known low-cost airlines and among the world’s most successful companies. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, the company employs more than 55,000 people and ferries passengers to more than 100 destinations in the United States (US) (Southwest Airlines Company 2018). The company’s mission is to provide the highest quality of customer service. It aims to achieve this goal by investing in its employees, which the company has acknowledged as being its greatest strength (Southwest Airlines Company 2018).
Theoretical Basis and Methods of Information Collection
The link between the success of Southwest Airlines and its human resource practices will be supported by two theoretical approaches: the best practice and best-fit model. The best practice approach stipulates that the adoption of specific human resource practices helps organizations to improve their competitive advantages, regardless of the industry that they operate in, or the kind of goods and services they are providing in the market (Aswathappa 2013). In this regard, the best practice approach alludes to a strong relationship between HRM practices and organizational performance. This link is supported by the principles of commitment management, which show that the adoption of best practices in organizational performance leads to high levels of workforce commitment and heightened levels of motivation (Boxall & Purcell 2015). Comparatively the best-fit approach stipulates that a firm’s performance should be supported by the consistent application of sound human resource principles throughout all cadres of an organization’s operations (Wilkinson & Johnstone 2016). Both theories highlighted in this paper assume that organizational success depends on the proper application of HRM and the involvement of all workers in the process (Mello 2014; Tsai & Yang 2013; Boxall & Purcell 2016).
The researcher collected data through desk research. Using this approach, secondary information was reviewed to investigate the role of human resource management in helping organizations to achieve their strategic goals. Emphasis was made to include only credible and reliable information from books and journals. Credible websites also provided another source of credible data.
A Systematic Discussion on Relationships among Strategies, HRM Practices and Organisation Performance at Southwest Airlines
Investing in Frontline Leaders
At Southwest Airlines, leadership is not a preserve of a few people within the organization; instead, it is a distributed process. The ratio of higher-cadre employees to lower-cadre employees is also manageable, making it easier for management to relate to employee issues (Dan & Xinde 2014). The supervisors are not authoritarian leaders; instead, they act as “player-coaches.” where their relationship with employees is integrated and cordial. Those who have been given this leadership position often undergo a thorough vetting process, which ensures they have high credibility and influence in the organization (SWA 2013). Furthermore, employees respect them for having these qualities.
Most of the coaching processes at Southwest Airlines are based on problem-solving techniques, where employees present problems and they brainstorm with their supervisors and managers on how to solve them (Dan & Xinde 2014). Using this technique, employees exchange ideas with their managers and get guidance on how to perform their duties. In other words, the managers correct their employees by providing advice to them and not disciplining them. To make sure they carry out this duty well, the organization’s managers have to participate in leadership training seminars where they learn how to interact well with their colleagues (SWA 2013). The company’s policy dictates that they need to undergo two levels of leadership training. The first one is “supervisor in training” and the second one is the “functional supervisor” level (SWA 2013). After the second level of training, learning does not stop there because they continue to receive regular training to improve their job. These HRM techniques have helped Southwest Airlines to improve its organizational efficiency.
Hire and Train for Relationship Excellence
Southwest Airlines pays close attention to the people they hire as employees. Particularly, the company focuses on hiring employees who would integrate easily with existing ones (Weber 2015). To make sure they get the right kind of workers that fit this profile, they have two types of contracts for new employees. One is the trial employment contract, which outlines a specific period, or time, which the skills of the new employees are evaluated, pending approval or consideration for a long-term contract (SWA 2013). The long-term contract is the second type of agreement for the new workers and it is only given to employees who satisfy the organization’s requirements for hiring and training. Relationship excellence is a key goal of the training process, and it is supported by the organization’s quest to continually train their employees to improve customer service standards and productivity. These hiring and training strategies are instrumental to the organization’s operations because they are holistic and cover all work processes. Lastly, hiring and recruitment strategies are internal. In other words, the airline strives to fill its vacancies by promoting employees who are already working for the company, as opposed to hiring new people from outside the organization (Weber 2015).
Uses Conflict to Build Relationships
Conflict resolution is also a key part of Southwest Airline’s HRM plan. Some researchers have also highlighted it as an integral part of the organization’s operational plan because people are instrumental to its success (Carter 2015; Mishra 2017; Bakshi et al. 2014). Indeed, when conflicts emerge, they could undermine the overall attainment of organizational goals because employees would not be working seamlessly. At Southwest Airline, management often encourages its workers to resolve their differences before a higher dispute resolution mechanism is sought (Crawley et al. 2013). However, if the employees are unable to do so, managers have the responsibility of mediating between the warring factions. In the process, employees are supposed to attend information-gathering meetings where they can state their cases. Often, employees solve their issues at this stage because management often facilitates better communication among them (Crawley et al. 2013). However, if such an outcome is elusive, a second meeting is arranged. It is informally known in the company as a “Come to Jesus” meeting. Deliberations may take more than one day to complete, but in most cases, a solution is often achieved in the end. When parties are reconciled, there is a stronger relationship built among all the parties involved, which helps in the improvement of organizational success.
Flexible Job Descriptions
All employees at Southwest Airlines have specific job descriptions. Thus, the airline staff knows what to do. However, the company also has a philosophy that requires all employees to work towards promoting the greater good of the organization; including helping out in areas that do not necessarily fit in their job descriptions (Srinivasan 2016). Herb Kelleher is an example of an employee who was celebrated in the organization for meeting the aforementioned guidelines. He was celebrated because, although he held a high-level management position in the organization, he helped ground staff to do their work (Srinivasan 2016). Boundary spanning is also another key part of Southwest Airline’s HRM plan because it helps to create boundaries in job roles. It also fosters improved employee relationships through the promotion of flexible job descriptions. At the same time, it encourages employees to build relationships across different job profiles (Huang & Wu 2015). Furthermore, it introduces more agility to the workforce and enhances employee commitment. Having committed employees in the organization has helped Southwest Airlines to improve its service standards, which is a key performance indicator in the organization (Davis 2017; Kucharčíková 2014). By extension, the employees treat customers well – a process, which translates to repeat business and increased profitability for the airline.
The best-fit and best practice models accentuate the role of human resource practices at Southwest Airlines because they provide a framework for understanding the integral role of employees in promoting organizational success. For example, the best practice model explains how the adoption of excellent human resource practices has helped it to achieve high levels of organizational success. This link is demonstrated through the adoption of progressive human resource principles, which have helped Southwest Airlines to enjoy high levels of employee commitment and morale. The airline’s hiring strategy provides a good example of the application of the best practice model because it has not only helped it to attract the best talent in the market but also aided in the creation of improved organizational synergies, which have similarly enhanced its organizational performance. The same human resource practice (recruitment and hiring) also highlights the role of the best-fit model in explaining the company’s success because Southwest only hires employees who can augment well with the organization’s policies and operations. Thus, the strategic fit is an important consideration for its human resource practices.
The important role of employees in organizational success is probably considered a cliché in many management disciplines. However, this case study has proved that this is not the case because Southwest has successfully managed to use its HR management strategies to shore up the company’s personality and intellectual capital for the benefit of its customers and shareholders. Particularly, key tenets of this paper show that the company has used its human resource management strategies to improve its competitive advantage by leveraging them to create a strong competitive advantage over its rivals. It has used four key strategies to achieve this goal. The first one is investing in frontline leaders. Here, the company’s top leadership has been taught to interact cordially with all employees. As evident in this paper, the leadership training process assumes the nature of the relationship between a coach and a player because leaders and employees share a cordial relationship, which allows them to interact as partners.
The second strategy pursued by Southwest is hiring for relationship excellence because employees of the airline undergo a thorough recruitment and hiring process which not only evaluates their skills and competence but also their ease of fit with other employees in the organization. Lastly, this study has also shown that Southwest Airlines uses its human resource strategies to improve its competitive position by making its job designs more flexible and using conflicts to create stronger relationships among employees. These strategies are integral to the organization’s success because they have helped to boost employee morale and commitment. Broadly, the findings of this paper show that if organizations pay attention to improving their human resource capabilities, they will be able to improve their employee’s commitment, synergies, and motivation, which would eventually promote their competitive advantages. Therefore, human resource management is one of the ways through which organizations can boost their overall success.
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