Monday, June 26, 2006

Entertaining the Possibilities at Southwest

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The last article announced a series of forthcoming posts about how Southwest Airlines has applied my H.E.A.R. Principle without being aware of it. The source of real life examples have been obtained from the best-selling book NUTS! by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg.

Having a passion allows one to be in a state of mind to entertain the possibilities. The energy of passion creates a space by which you become receptive to ideas and thoughts leading you to the achievement of what you're passionate about.

In the early seventies, Lamar Muse, president of Southwest at the time, decided to add a fourth plane in anticipation of providing out-of-state charters as well as flying more daily flights. However, a federal district court shot the airline down by ruling they couldn't fly charters outside Texas (more adversity!).

What's a man to do in this situation? Muse ended up selling the unproductive plane at a profit and went into creative mode. He got together with Bill Franklin, a man he hired to manage ground operations and together they entertained the possibilities of utilizing 3 (instead of 4) airplanes without cutting back on the new flight schedule.

Franklin felt this could be achieved if they were able to reduce the turnaround time down to ten minutes - the length of time it takes for a plane to arrive, deplane and board passengers, check and change the oil (as well as the tires), clean up the cabin and a multitude of other things.

Could it be done?

Apparently they thought so because employees were given directives to do so. They were told in no uncertain terms that if they thought it couldn't be done, they'd be fired until the right people with the right attitude could be found.

Now, I know how this sounds - employees were faced with the prospect of losing their jobs if they didn't find a way to reduce the time of turnaround. You might think they did not have a choice. This may further lead you to conclude that they did it out of fear rather than passion.

I beg to differ.

Because Lamar and Franklin had a passion for the survival of the airline, they passed it down to the people working the front lines. Those who caught on with passion and enthuasism were able to find a way of meeting Lamar's directives. They were able to entertain the possibilities. Those who were unable or unwilling were let go. It was as simple as that.

Granted, according to the book, Lamar was a strong disciplarian type of leader which was what they needed at the time. Today, there's no need for Southwest employees to be threatened with the loss of a job - in fact, they are encouraged to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them without the fear of losing their shirts.

What's interesting is that many of these front line people had no airline experience so they had no idea whether or not they could turn around an airplane in ten minutes - but they did it.

By God, did they ever!

That was years ago. Now that Southwest is a much bigger airline with larger planes, more carry on luggage, more cargo and increased congestion at busier airports, their turnaround time is now 20 minutes, still a record in today's airline industry. In fact, it's half of the industry standard!

Think about this for a moment. If they all hated their jobs, do you think they would have been able to turn around a plane that quickly? It takes an army of people (i.e. pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers, fuelers, gate attendant and countless other bodies) to defy the odds and make this seeimingly impossible task work.

Based on my own experiences, we are sometimes presented with a set of adverse circumstances that force us to reconsider the options at hand and discover our true potential in the process. Lamar's directives took on that appearance and those who were ready to expand the envelope of their potential did so. Those who were not simply fell by the wayside.

This makes for an interesting argument, wouldn't you say? I welcome your thoughts.

Food for thought: Are you following your passion and entertaining the possibilities? If not, what's holding you back? Posted by Picasa
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