A Culture of  ‘LUV’ at Southwest Airlines (Part 2)

BY MAX CHOPOVSKY  @MaxChopovsky

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In Part 1 of our interview we chatted with Southwest Airlines’ SVP of Culture and Communications, Ginger Hardage, on the foundations of their culture and what LUV means to them. In Part 2 we take a deeper look on how their space impacts culture.

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Bringing LUV and Space Together

What are some ways space is used to impact the culture?
One initiative is our Culture Centers*. Our headquarter building was built about 25 years ago when offices weren’t designed to be as collaborative. We recently renovated the headquarters which resulted in the creation of the Culture Centers. They are designated areas of collaboration that are uniquely themed. For example, one of them is named our Fun-LUVing Attitude Culture Center which features some of the Fun-LUVing things we’ve done throughout our history such as the Message to the Field. It also brings to life the gregariousness of our Chairman Emeritus, Herb Kelleher, when you push a laugh button featured in his honor. It’s a very lively area and space that our Employees really enjoy. This is just one of many different Culture Centers that help us to perpetuate our Culture, tell our story, and allow the congregation of Employees to come together to work.
How would you describe the Southwest headquarters?
It’s very unique and hybrid. It’s part museum, a space that tells our Company story, and a place that creates collaboration. If one were to do a tour of the headquarters you would quickly learn about the history, which is the museum-like aspect of it. At the same time, it’s not only about showing off who we are but creating a collaborative workplace where Employees can be comfortable. It really does a good job of telling the Southwest story, showcasing our Culture, and helping People feel the hospitality of our brand.

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What are some of your favorite parts of the office?
I really love the Fun-LUVing Attitude Culture Center. It’s one of my favorites because you will always find yourself smiling once you are inside it. Another one is the Servant’s Heart Culture Center which showcases how we serve our Community and our Customers. In that space we have a table where the word “Customers” is laminated into the table, and features what we call LUV Mail, which are letters our Customers have written to us about their positive travel experience and our Employees. These spaces, among several others, create an atmosphere where People feel they can be their creative self.
Although not a space, one of my favorite events is the Southwest Airlines Red River Pigskin Plane Pull. Every year when the Red River Rivalry game takes place in Dallas, Employees who are alumni of Oklahoma University and the University of Texas do a plane pull of a Southwest 737 to see which team will get to the finish line the fastest; we even invite each Team’s cheerleaders and mascot! It’s probably one of our most fun events every year.

Lessons Learned

What has the redesign of your office taught you about space?
I have learned that we really need to help support our People to help them feel comfortable so they can create and collaborate freely. For Employees who don’t work in the headquarters, we want them to feel welcomed which I think our very open and fun space helps with. For Employees who are brand new, the space teaches them about our Culture and the rich history of our airline. Space can be very effective in helping tell a Company’s story.

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You have been at Southwest since 1990. How have you seen it evolve? 
One thing that has actually stayed the same are our core values. The way we treat Employees, our Customers, and each other has always been the same. What has evolved is the way we deliver it. With the way technology is changing how we interact with our Customers, we have had to find ways to make sure that we are adapting to those changes on an Employee level. Our Listening Center is something that has been created due to this evolution. In the Listening Center, we track social media conversations about Southwest and Employees sitting in the center respond in real time. That is an example of how technology has helped us shape our Culture and Employees.

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What advice would you give to organizations that have limited resources for their culture?
It’s not about how much money you spend, but more about what you do. It doesn’t cost a lot to recognize someone’s birthday or to say nice job. So you really have to look at the small things you can do. There are very simple ways that you can just recognize the person. You have to get creative and understand what matters to your Employees. Just a little gesture can go a long way and add an extra spark to someone’s day and make a huge difference.

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*Southwest capitalizes every reference to People, Pilots, Employees, Mechanics, and other roles, and combines hyphenated or separate words, e.g., Customer Service, into one. It’s all part of “Colleen’s Bible,” a not-so-informal guide  from President Emeritus Colleen Barrett on recognizing the employees at Southwest and their roles.
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Planning on moving into your first office? For help designing, furnishing or building your space, reach out to our Space Experts. Or are you looking for inspiration? Check out our Creative Spaces page for videos of Chicago’s coolest offices.

Read more of our exclusive interviews with major brands from our Culture by Design series:

AdobeESPN | General Motors | Hyatt | Young & Rubicam | Zappos

Is Southwest a place you would like to work at? Why?