South by-not Southwest

Apr 09, 2015

Austin’s famous South by Southwest conference brings thousands into Texas every March. A mecca for music, technology, and film buffs, the 10-day affair represents one of the country’s most dynamic and progressive interactive festivals. With it brings a crowd that tests societal, cultural, and technological norms. Austin’s dynamic culture is nearly the perfect setting to host such an event.

Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, supports a very different set of cultural values in fulfilling their mission of getting people from all walks of life happily and safely to their destinations. Case in point: a passenger who recently attended South by Southwest was denied boarding because of his refusal to remove a t-shirt bearing an obscenity.

Was it a clash of two cultures? Probably. Southwest Airlines has vigorously defended its corporate values, creating alignment and engagement all the way down to gate attendants. The result is a company who isn’t afraid to take heat from customers when it comes to living their values.

Here are three tips so you can do the same:

  1. Use employees and stakeholders to craft your values and culture – One of the easiest ways to ensure that your company lives by its values is to let your employees help craft them. If they don’t relate to them in the first place, you can forget getting everyone onboard.
  2. Hire people who align with your desired culture – Once you have a set of values in place, look to hire those who you think fit with your values and culture. It will make you and your employees happier.
  3. Communicate it and stand behind it – Be like Southwest Airlines and stand behind your values and the culture you’ve created even if you have to take some heat.

Core values are not just created and then filed away as a wish list. They are created to guide how the organization and its members are expected to behave while carrying out its mission. These values permeate all decision-making processes and create guardrails for behavior for the entire organization. Some are deal breakers, while others are suggestions. Don’t let your core values break down.

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