Southwest Airlines

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					Assignment:        Is the South West Airlines blog an example of
                   institutional   messaging   or    meaningful
                   communication     between   employees    and
                   clients?

Authors:           Mr. Lee Hayes, MBA, 017001315

                   Mr. Haoqing Sun, CCC (IM), 089063374

                   Miss Cheng Bo Zhang, IBM, 089138960

                   Mr. Chunzhe Zou, IBM, 089020366

Module:            NBS8053 – Information Systems Management

Lecturer:          Professor Lee Schlenker

Submission Date:   29/05/2009

Word Count:        2000




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Table of contents

Section Title                             Page Number

1       Introduction                          03

2       Business Challenges                   03

3       Targeted Competences                  05

3.1     Good customer relationships           05

3.2     Effective work practices              05

4       Vision                                05

5       Metrics                               06

6       Discussion Questions/Conclusion       07

7       References                            08




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1.     Introduction
When the President of South West Airlines challenges the President of a rival company to an
arm wrestling contest over the use of a corporate slogan or when the acquisition of an
airline leads to a ‘wedding’ between two airlines in Gracelands, Las Vegas one knows that
the strategy of engagement that South West Airlines uses is unorthodox but has been highly
successful.

South West Airlines for nearly forty years and has been cited by authors such as Porter
(1981) as demonstrating an excellence in operations management. It was founded in 1971
and has grown from being a small regional service, from its inception, to providing a service
to many millions in 2004. Back in 1995 South West Airlines created its own website and it is
not until the following year that ‘ticketless’ travel is implemented. In 2006 South West
Airlines created its own blog which is designed for staff as well as the general public.
Naturally, as information-based technology has progressed through the years, the
appearance and content within the original website and blog is not easily compared.

The purpose of this group assignment is to critically analyse whether or not the South West
Airlines blog is an appropriate and effective form of communication, both internally and
externally. It is the opinion of the group that before one is able to critically analyse the blog
one must be able to understand the history, and in some cases the culture, of the
organisation in question.

This case study will examine the reasons behind the creation of the blog. Primarily, what
were the critical factors behind the decision to implement this blog? Secondly, what were
the desired targeted competences? Thirdly, what is the vision behind South West Airlines
and finally, once the previous three factors are critically analysed, what were, and indeed
are, the metrics by which one is able to determine whether or not the blog has been
successful. Naturally, this will lead to some unanswered questions that will form the
conclusion.

2.     Business Challenges
Weiss et al (2005) maintains that the primary concern of South West Airlines was in
providing an excellent customer service. Where other organisations seemingly paid lip
service to the concept of customer service, Weiss et al (2005) asserts that South West

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Airlines has historically made original and searching business decisions that can be argued
have helped to improve tremendously its market share from the day the first South West
Airlines flight departed. South West Airlines has always had different corporate behaviour to
that of its immediate competitors (as detailed in the previous section), but could this
creation of a corporate blog be another example of the uniqueness South West Airlines
offers? There are three main business challenges that South West Airlines faces in its
adoption of a corporate blog and these are customer services, ‘turn around’ time and
maintaining uniqueness.

The primary concern for South West Airlines is that of providing a good customer service.
The then-President of South West Airlines, Coleen Barrett, saw the corporate blog as being
an extension of the customer services that South West Airlines provides. It is also noted that
Coleen Barratt was also an occasional user of and reader of blogs as well. Barratt argues that
the blog has been extensively used by South West Airlines, as an entity, because many of
the Senior Management Team are an essential part of it. It is argued by South West Airlines
that the creation (and usage of the blog by customers) has led to a line of communication
hitherto unavailable to the company. It is debatable as to how effective this communication
is. Liu et al (1997) states that most corporate home pages are primarily used to promote the
advertising agenda of the host organisation. Another concern for South West Airlines is
being able to successfully justify to employees the benefits and advantages. As already said,
the then-President of South West Airlines read the blog and the senior management team,
in general, use it. The question remains do employees feel they can freely participate in a
blog or do they feel a compulsion to follow the position of the employer? This question of
autonomy or control is a common problem faced by businesses through the ages. The fact
that it is a new form of communication is almost irrelevant to the problem. Barnard (1968)
argues the point that an employee must surrender some of their autonomy if they are to
fully participate with the aims of the organisation. In this case the aim of the company is to
make effective use of the blog.




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3.     Targeted Competences
As already alluded in the previous section, there has been a plan by South West Airlines to
use the blog as a general part of their customer service operations. If a blog is to be used
effectively in South West Airlines the organisation may wish to follow the following criteria:
Good customer relationships and effective work practices.

3.1    Good customer relationships
South West Airlines has always prided itself on its interaction with its customer base. From
using unorthodox advertising procedures and operations management it has increased over
the last forty years. Weiss et al (2005) describes the extent to which customer service plays
a role in the operation of the organisation; it is their focus. Can a good customer
relationship exist within the confines of a blog? The then-President of South West Airlines
believed this to be the case. The potential problem for a company employing the use of a
blog is that it could open a ‘pandora’s box’ of hitherto unknown problems. Whilst
researching this project, the group was amazed, given the usage of South West Airlines in
Business Management classes, about the sheer number of disgruntled customers there are
(http://hyku.com/blog/archives/001089.html).

3.2    Effective work practices
If a corporate blog is to affect the working practices of a company then it needs to have the
confidence of the workforce. Finch (1999) poses the interesting question about how a
customer services-led blog can lead to a rapid and effective response. It is also debatable as
to which type of blog does South West Airlines have. Is it a top down or bottom up blog? Is
the creation of the blog being driven from the executives or from the workforce itself?
Certainly there are examples of companies that have used bottom up blogs in order to
facilitate the development of a company. However, there are many pitfalls that need to be
addressed. For example, if one has a bottom up blog this infers that there is a lot of
autonomy with the general workforce. However, this type of autonomy can lead to
potentials problems as highlighted by Langfred (2004).

4.     Vision
South West Airlines has adapted quickly to the Internet and started using e-tickets before
their other competitors. Using new and effective forms of technology have been at the


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forefront of the operations of South West Airlines since its creation. South West Airlines has
a reputation of using unorthodox strategies. South West Airlines has tried to rein in costs in
every conceivable way and using a blog to communicate those ideals to the workforce is just
another idea. The question as to whether the blog is a true blog, i.e. it is an honest piece of
work written from the heart, is open to debate as a reasonable person would assume that
as the blog is currently a senior management strategy one would not write a critical article
for fear of repercussions. Indeed the example of an air stewardess in 2004 undoubtedly
provided warnings to potential internal detractors of the dangers of writing something
inappropriate in a blog; although in this case what was actually written was innocuous.

It is admirable that South West Airlines feels adventurous in choosing to be the first (as of
writing this paper) airline to have a blog. South West Airlines has used other forms of media
to show the image of South West Airlines to the greater public. There was a US version of
the Airline television programme which detailed the inner workings of the airline although it
was cancelled after one series. With specific regard to blogs there have been demonstrable
examples of effective and free use of blogs within organisations (albeit not in the service
sector). IBM and McDonalds appear to have a bottom up internal blog whereby workers are
‘encouraged’ to express their feelings. Naturally, the reasoning behind this is to prevent
unfavourable information from being released into the public domain.

5.     Metrics
The success of any given action can be determined by how it is implemented. Carnall (2007)
argues that the success of any organisational strategy is determined by the planning, judging
of the scenario and the execution of the strategy. In the case of South West Airlines a
judgement of how successful the strategy can be determined by how well used it is. A point
that has already been made is how free do people feel to make their own, honest opinions
known? If the information on the blog is merely confirms everything that the company is
already saying then it is difficult to see how valuable the blog is. However, if the information
is extremely contradictory then it must only further the divide between the workforce and
the senior management team. For the purposes of this assignment, the group signed up for
the blog to enable the group to give a more focussed answer. It does appear that there a
very few signs of interaction unlike what one would expect to see in a fully, multi-
dimensional blog. When one looks at the Targeted Competencies section one can see the

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effective work practices subsection. If the blog is not really being used apart from those in
higher level management who see a blog as the ‘next big thing’ then the blog is guaranteed
to perform to expectations without delivering the results upon which the original idea was
focussed.

6.     Discussion Questions/Conclusion
There are many questions behind why certain organisations and not other adopt the use of
blogs. Jones (2005) argues the case why many organisations are reluctant to do this because
of lack of clarity between management and staff about the content and can be seen as a
contradiction to the free nature surrounding blogs. There have been many cases of people
being disciplined or even losing their jobs as a result of blog entries (BBC News, 2004). Other
blogs, unrestricted by companies, such as ‘petite anglaise’ have been used to anonymously
criticise people who have no chance to rebut claims made (Petite Anglaise (2009)). Blogs are
a new form of a relatively old concept, i.e. Bulletin Boards. There is, however, a difference in
opinion as to what a specific corporate blog should resemble. Should a blog be as open
ended with the intention of ‘humanising’ it? This was the attempt made by Macromedia
blog (prior to its acquisition by Adobe Inc.) (Stone “2002)) or should a blog appear a top
down management strategy that appears to be the case with South West Airlines? This is
the question that needs answering. As shown in previous sections of this paper, there are
advantages and disadvantages between the top down and bottom up approach to blogging
but from the position of an outsider looking in there does appear to be a great difference
between what the aims and objectives of the South West Airlines blog is and what it was
envisaged to cover.




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7.   References

     Books Journals
    Carnall, C. (2007) Managing Change in Organizations, fifth Edition London: Prentice
     Hall

    Finch, B. J. (1999), Internet discussions as a source for consumer product customer
     involvement and quality information: an exploratory study, Journal of Operations
     Management, Vol. 17, No. 5, pp.535-56.

    Langfred, C. (2004), Too much of a good thing? Negative effects of high trust and
     individual autonomy in self-managing teams, Academy of Management Journal, Vol.
     47, No. 3, pp.385-99.

    Liu, C., Arnett, K.P., Capella, L.M. and Beatty, R.C. (1997), Web sites of the Fortune
     500 companies: facing customers through home pages, Information & Management,
     Vol. 31, No. 6, pp.335-45.

    Porter, M. E. (1985) Competitive Advantage, New York: Free Press.

    Stone, B. (2002), Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content, Indianapolis:
     New Riders Publishing.

    Weiss, E. N. and Friesen, M., (2005) South West Airlines: Singin' the (Jet) Blues.
     Virginia: University of Virginia Press.

Websites
    BBC News (2004), “Blogger grounded by her airline”, available at:
     http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3955913.stm (accessed May 04, 2009).

    Petite Anglaise (2009), http://www.petiteanglaise.com/ (accessed May 04, 2009)

    South West Airlines ‘blog’ (2009) http://hyku.com/blog/archives/001089.html
     (accessed May 04, 2009)




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