Empowerment and Recognition

I flew on Southwest Airlines recently and, as always, was impressed with the friendly service provided by everyone I met. During my short flight from Washington, DC to Atlanta I skimmed the in-flight magazine and learned a lot about how Southwest values its employees.

Near the front of the magazine were pages (yes, I said pages) of letters from happy customers describing the excellent service they’d received from Southwest employees around the country. There was a letter from a customer who was traveling home from her father’s funeral. She was carrying the flag that had been presented to her to honor his service in World War II. The pilot saw her carrying the flag and asked her the name of the person who had died and during the flight, he announced to the plane that he wanted to honor her father’s service to our country and shared his name with the passengers who applauded. As you can imagine, the grieving daughter was touched and grateful.

There was another story of a mother who young son was traveling by himself. After he boarded and the plane was about to taxi out to the runway, she realized her car keys were in his backpack. She begged the gate agent who quickly got on the phone and stopped the plane so that the keys could be returned.

While some may think that sharing these letters may seem a little self serving, I think it demonstrates two very important things—

1. Southwest employees are empowered to “go the extra mile” for customers!

2. Southwest management knows the importance of recognizing outstanding service!

This is a very powerful combination—when we empower our employees to take care of customers and reward them for acting; it is a classic “win/win”. Employees feel valued and customers are treated with care and respect! Who doesn’t want that?

The mere fact that I am writing about this tells me that there are not very many organizations that get the importance of employee empowerment and even fewer do a good job of recognizing outstanding performance. I think many managers are afraid of giving too much power to employees—in other words, they don’t trust their employees to do the right thing.

Yes, it is a bit frightening for managers to allow employees to make decisions but if you hire the right people and train them to do their jobs and instill in them the values your organization lives by-- then they should be able to be trusted with making good decisions.

We talk a lot about getting employees to trust their leaders and their organizations but maybe there should be some discussion about how leaders can learn to trust their valued employees!

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