The Case of Southwest Airlines

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The case of Southwest Airlines in relation to Organizational Development and change

Owing to the stiff competition that is being witnessed around the world today, companies are finding the need to restructure themselves more real than ever. Hardly a day passes by without the media reporting of restructurings, mergers and acquisitions. As such, organizational change and development is of paramount importance in ensuring the survival of any organizational entity. It is imperative to note that the success or failure of any enterprise largely depend on how the development and change processes are handled by all concerned (Change management, 2008).

Basic concepts of organizational development and change

According to McNamara (2008), important organizational development and change occurs when an organization want to change its nature of operations, change its overall strategy for success, or when it want to add or remove a major section or practice. Just as people evolve through many life-cycles, organizations also evolve through their own life-cycles. Change must occur when an organization evolve from one stage to another.

Organizational development, popularly known as OD is the procedure through which the internal capacity to effectively and efficiently provide the organization’s mission work is developed. It also includes development of strategies through which the organization intends to employ for long-term sustenance. OD is a concerted attempt to progress organization’s renewal and problem solving processes, predominantly through more collaborative and effective management of organizational culture. The process is undertaken with the help of a change catalyst, agent, or practitioner (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

In layman’s language, “an organization practitioner is to an organization as a physician is to a human body.” The role of the organizational practitioner in any organization is to discover or diagnose the most significant preferences to address in the organization, come up with a change management plan, and then effectively guide the entity through the fundamental change processes (McNamara, 2008).

According to McNamara (2008), organizational change involves wide-ranging changes in the organization as opposed to minute changes such as hiring an employee. Restructuring operations, introduction of new technologies, major collaborations, rightsizing or downsizing, introduction of Total Quality Management programs are all elements of organizational change. In many instances, organizational change is incited by external driving forces such as need for dramatic increases in productivity, cuts in funding, or need to address major new clients or markets.

Southwest Airlines and customer service problem

Southwest Airlines is a low-budget airline having its base in Dallas, Texas, United States of America. Southwest Airlines is by far the largest airline in the U.S. based on the number of passengers it flies domestically on yearly basis. It has carried many more passengers in the world than any other airline, thus making it to be the largest in that perspective. By revenue standards, it is the largest U.S. airline. Added to its resume is the huge number of flights it operates daily. According to recent estimates, Southwest Airlines operated over 3,500 flights daily, therefore making it the fifth largest passenger airline in the world (Southwest Airlines Company, 2008).

Diagnosis of Southwest Airlines problems

Due to the huge number of traffic it handles per day, Southwest Airlines have been experiencing some managerial problems, especially in its customer service department. Arranging some 3,500 daily flights seem a tall order for those concerned. This is precisely because the management is still using the system used some few years ago, when it was handling some 2000 flights daily. To add to its misery, the airline is receiving stiff competition from other low-cost airlines, key among them AirTran and JetBlue. Other big airlines like United and American have scaled down their costs, thus competing unswervingly against the Southwest Airline.

In its organizational change, Southwest Airlines desperately need to update its customer service as well as connect their planes to the internet to attract more business travelers. This, according to organizational negotiators is long overdue. It’s not all that rosy for them as growth has slowed down, thus forcing the airline to hire fewer new, low-wage employees. This has in turn raised its operational costs and pushed the average wage upwards. Expenses could be further increased by the ongoing negations with the workers unions over new work contracts (Southwest Airlines Company, 2008).

Planning and implementing change in Southwest Airlines

According to McNamara (2008), managers and leaders must persistently make attempts to accomplish significant and successful change. This is within every manager’s job description. A change negotiator must therefore inherently demonstrate a deep understanding of the change effort context in the Southwest Airlines, with the focus being on how to improve customer service. He must understand the basic structures and systems in the airline, including their typical roles and terms.

Customers are complaining that the booking schedules are not efficient enough while its planes lack internet connections thus making it virtually impossible for business people to conduct business onboard. The vision here is to develop the airline into a modern entity, with high-caliber employees who will effectively run customer service as well as connecting their planes to the internet. The change negotiator must therefore decode the vision into a sensible plan and carry out the planned change (McNamara, 2008).

Team-wide effort must be employed for such changes to be effected. The whole management, including the CEO and the company board must be involved. The Southwest employees, from the most senior to the least must also be involved. Frequent communications about the planned changes must be made to all the organization members. The structures of the previous customers’ service department must be modified to reflect the desired changes. Policies, procedures, and strategic plans of the department have to be modified so that the necessary changes might take place (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

It is the duty of the change negotiator to look at the competencies of the head of customer service at the airline, together with the employees at his disposal so that he may recommend to the human resources department the necessary changes that can be initiated to arrest the situation. The slow growth noted in the industry recently has affected the airline hiring procedures, forcing the airline to hire fewer, low-wage employees (Southwest Airlines Company, 2008).

If the outcry about poor customer service is as a result of that fact, the negotiator must effectively be able to recommend to the human resources department to change its hiring procedures and go for results-oriented employees. The finance department can be asked to chip in and allocate more budgetary allocations to pay employees salaries to ensure that they only hire and retain the best employees. In all this, the airline’s employees must be involved through constant communication and education so that issues of resistance to the plan are dealt with (McNamara, 2008).

Connecting the planes with the internet is a tall order which requires the concerted efforts of all the management, together with the finance department. Technology is expensive and thus the finance department must be prepared to set apart huge sums of money for that purpose. Here, a careful analysis of the airlines lenders must be undertaken to establish if they are in a position to lend to the airline the cash required.

The airline books of accounts must be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure that such a loan will not overburden the airline when it comes to repayment. It can be argued that with internet connection, more business-class travelers will be willing to travel with Southwest Airlines and thus profit margins will increase. After all is set and the viability of the plan approved, the management, finance, technical, and allied departments should all work together to ensure that the planned change is effected (McNamara, 2008).

All in all, the planning and implementation processes should be done in a way that will considerably reduce employee resistance and cost to the airline, while maximizing the effectiveness of carrying out the above changes. On the first account of changing the customer service, the negotiator must try to change the structure, strategy, and the people involved. On the second account of introducing the internet to boost travel bookings, the negotiator must strive to change the technology and the strategy used by Southwest airlines (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

In the case, of Southwest airlines, the negotiator can effectively use the Action Research Process model to bring about the desired change. According to Sagor (2000), “Action research is a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for Action Research is to assist the actor in improving and/or refining his or her actions. The following diagram summarizes the change process.

The Case of Southwest Airlines

Change evaluation

According to McNamara (2008), the quality of implementations of the planned change must be evaluated as well as the achievements of desired results. In my case, if customers no longer complains about poor customer service and business people identifies with the airline, then the change would have achieved the desired results. If all the action plans are implemented and all the stakeholders agree that the project of streamlining customer care department and connecting the planes to the internet were a success, effective and successful change would have taken place in the airline.

Works cited

Action Research: The Action Research Process. 2008. CTE John Hopkins University. Web.

Change Management, Organizational Development, Culture. 2008. Web.

Cummins, T.G., and Christopher, G.W. Organization Development and Change. 2005. Thomson South-Western.

McNamara, Carter. About the Field of Organization Development (OD). 2008. Free Management Library. Web.

McNamara Carter, Organizational Change and Development. 2008. Free Management Library. Web.

McNamara, Carter. Basic Context for Organizational Change. 2008. Free Management Library. Web.

“Southwest Airlines Company.” The New York Times. 2008. Web.

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