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13 min watch with captions and full transcript

In the booming airline industry, Southwest Airlines is a former upstart now competing with the big boys. So how does the airline ensure every employee embodies its core values? Glenn sat down with Southwest’s Director of People to find out.

In this interview Bonnie shares her her tips for:

  • Keeping values at the core of every people practice
  • Using pilot programs to create inclusive, employee-first changes
  • Developing leaders for the frontlines


Learn from Bonnie’s rebel insights, like:
  • Keep your values simple
  • Getting the job done means nothing without values
  • Living your company’s values starts with senior leadership
  • Let employees decide if they want to be leaders
  • Having fun on the job is a requirement
Our favorite quotes:

If you're going to work hard, you have to play hard and [that means] not taking yourself too seriously, and being a great team member.

Connecting people to what's important in their lives is a big deal for us and everybody takes that very seriously. It's more of a cause than just a job.

Bonnie's interview:

GLENN ELLIOTT: Hello. It's Glenn here at rebelplaybook.com and with me today is Bonnie Endicott from Southwest Airlines. Hi Bonnie.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Hello, how are you?

GLENN ELLIOTT: I'm very good thank you. Thanks for joining us today.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Absolutely. Glad to do it.

GLENN ELLIOTT: We've been talking a lot about culture and values today at the conference we've been at, and I loved hearing all about Southwest values. Do you want to tell us a bit about them?

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Sure. We have three values under 'Live the Southwest Way' that are important for all employees at Southwest and there's three of them.

We have Warrior Spirit, which is all about working hard, being innovative, continuous improvement, that kind of thing. Servant's Heart, which is all about respecting each other, the golden rule is important for us. Then the final one is Fun Loving Attitude, which is all about having fun. If you're going to work hard, you have to play hard and not taking yourself too seriously, and being a great team member.

GLENN ELLIOTT: You said it's actually a requirement to have fun as part of your job at Southwest.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: It is a requirement to have fun.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Revolutionary as that might seem.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: I know and we've held folks accountable for not showing that they're having fun at work.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Nice values, aren't they? Sometimes you get quite bland customer focused or act with integrity, but I love Warrior Spirit and Servant's Heart. I think they're lovely.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Yeah and I think they really embody who we are at Southwest and what's important to us. We often refer to each other as warriors. Southwest warriors or that kind of a thing, so it's just fun because it means a lot to us.

: That's important. How long have you had those values?

BONNIE ENDICOTT: They have been around for about 13 years I believe. I was not here when they were conceived. They come from our long tradition of who we are at Southwest, but they were kind of... Those were the three that distilled out to best describe our Southwest employees.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Do they evolve over time? Have you added bits to values and things?

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Yeah, we have. They started off with Live the Southwest Way, which is Servant's Heart, Fun Loving Attitude, Warrior Spirit and then we added on to those, some expectations for leaders.

Because being a leader at Southwest is very important and a little different than you might lead at other companies. We have three of those values and then we later added senior leadership expectations and there were four of those in the beginning. Now we've distilled those down to three.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Tell me about the leaders values.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: For all leaders, supervisor and above, it's important to develop people, build great teams and think strategically.

GLENN ELLIOTT: That sounds good.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Yeah, so develop people is all about, are you growing your people? Are you giving them learning opportunities? Are you giving them feedback? Building great teams is, are you looking or a diverse? To build diverse and inclusive teams. Are you building environments of trust?

Thinking strategically is just that, are you thinking with the bigger picture  in mind than just kind of problem solving day to day.

: That's cool. I was interested, when you were talking this morning about how you said when you think about someone's performance and someone's success, you think more than just about did they get the job done? But also, how did they get the job done? Did they live those values in getting the job done? Because that's kind of more the long term, isn't it?

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Absolutely. We definitely feel that the how is much more important than what folks accomplish. The what could vary from how they board passengers onto an airplane, to how they deliver projects in corporate headquarters and we care much more about how they do that, and did they engage a Warrior Spirit, a Fun Loving Attitude and Servant's Heart every day versus did you turn a plane on time? Now that's very important and all of our customers care about that, but if you're mean to customers and you're getting them out on time, doesn't really value. That doesn't really match our values.

GLENN ELLIOTT: That's interesting, isn't it? I guess sometimes things can get in the way and you don't hit the goal-


GLENN ELLIOTT: ...but you still behaved in the right way, trying to hit the goal.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Absolutely. Yes.

GLENN ELLIOTT: That's important too, because it's complicated business running an airline.


GLENN ELLIOTT: When I see... Is it right that I read that Southwest is half a million flights a day? Or half a million passengers a day?


: It's a phenomenal number of people to move from A to B. It's funny sometimes when things go wrong in airlines and people miss flights, or the flight misses them. It's just such a complicated logistical operation.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Yes and now lately the air travel has been a booming business, and so I think all flights are full and it gets even more complicated whenever folks are missing flights or weather happens, so yes, it's quite complicated.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Yes, can't control the weather. How much do you think, because Southwest is so successful, do you think the values really help as a core part of that success?

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Well absolutely, because I feel like it gives everybody a guide post. If you have good values that are very clear, then everybody knows what's expected of them. Even if my job is to put passengers on planes or my job is to deliver projects, I still know how I'm supposed to be doing that and what I'm going to be measured to. It makes things much more simple.

GLENN ELLIOTT: I kind of feel it might lead to a richer job as well.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: I would hope so.

GLENN ELLIOTT: For all of us, some of our jobs can be boring.


GLENN ELLIOTT: I kind of feel that having that connection to the bigger mission and the bigger purpose, it must add much to those jobs too.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Absolutely. I feel that everybody and Southwest really feels kind of the cause of Southwest. Connecting people to what's important in their lives is a big deal for us and everybody takes that very seriously. It's more of a cause than just a job.

: You're so successful now, but do you still feel like the upstart of the industry? Fighting against the big guys.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: I think we have for a while. In the last couple of years that we talk about all the new upstarts that are the ultra low cost carriers, they feel an awful lot like we did quite a few years ago and so I think we're trying to keep the upstart thoughts and values, even while we're a large organization.

GLENN ELLIOTT: When I talk to, certainly employees about values, quite a lot of employees say, "I think my employer's got values but we don't really live them." Or they write them on the wall, but that's kind of where it stops. I know you've done a lot more, like really integrating through HR, haven't you? Can you share some of that?

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Yeah. We sure have. We use our values for hiring. It';s a pretty core part of the interviews that we do. Really checking to see if folks have demonstrated those values in their past before we decide to bring them on as Southwest employees.

We also use it for performance appraisals. As we talked about already, we use it in our leadership development curricula. We use it as part of our engagement surveys. Pretty much every people practice that we have, the values are core.

GLENN ELLIOTT: I guess that shows everyone that they're not just something that we write in the investor handbook.


GLENN ELLIOTT: They're something that are really important. So, that's fantastic.


GLENN ELLIOTT: I wonder why a lot of companies struggle to do that, because it's less common than you'd like to find values written through everything.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: It is and I don't know that I have a good answer for that, other than in my previous organizations that was the case.


BONNIE ENDICOTT: But I think it has a lot to do with our senior leaders. The values aren't just some kind of fun descriptors, they actually talk about it and they reward people about it, and they spend time... We recently reviewed our values, I think it was 2016, early 2016 we kind of relaunched them to even make them more simple. They spent an inordinate amount of time just hashing over each word and all the verbiage, so we recently gained a senior leader from a different organization and he said it's just amazing how much time we spend hashing out, and that's after it had been through a committee already. We just spend a lot of time on it and our Vice Presidents spent a lot of time on it. I just think it's important at the top, therefore it's important for everybody.

GLENN ELLIOTT: It's funny, that's another thing I really kind of noted about you telling me about the airline earlier on, was about real focus to try and keep things simple. Because I've learnt the hard way that simplicity is actually much more complex than making something hard. It takes ... You can produce something, and to make the simpler version takes a lot more work.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: That's true sometimes.

GLENN ELLIOTT: You were telling me earlier on about, I think it was your annual review, trying to get everything under one sheet of paper?

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Uh-huh (affirmative).

: Yeah.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: We are testing out going away from an annual performance appraisal and having more of a continuous conversation. In this stretch, trying to keep everything very simple, I challenged the team to just have all quarterly reviews captured on one piece of paper and they're like rolling their eyes at me, and they're like, "That's not going to fly, we're going to need more space for more notes." I'm like, "Well let's just give it a try."

In the feedback that came back is, "Fine, if you want to have it on one piece of paper, but you're going to have to include the values in there somewhere." I was just hoping that leaders would kind of include that, include feedback about the values just inherently, but we wanted to make sure it's well written on all of our HR documents if you will. I'm not sure what we're going to go to.

GLENN ELLIOTT: But it sounds like you've got a culture trying things out that may or may not work.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Oh sure. Yeah. Actually, we're piloting a pilot and the official pilot will start next year.


BONNIE ENDICOTT: So we're not afraid to try new things and challenge status quo.

GLENN ELLIOTT: It's nice because we're obviously here in Silicone Valley where they talk a lot about growth mindset. It's okay to fail, just try things.


GLENN ELLIOTT: But sometimes when we get back to our corporates, and especially in HR, there's... I'm trying to encourage my HR team too, to launch things and say, "This is just for now. We might carry on, we might not, we see if it works."

BONNIE ENDICOTT: There was a lot of nerves about that. I'm like, It's fine, nobody's going to die if they don't get their performance appraisal this year. Planes will still fly, nothing's going to fall out of the air. We were worried in our... Our finance organization is one of the teams that is trying this out and we think finance folks are fairly structured, and they're going to flip out if we don't have everything buttoned up and they were fine. They liked it and they've been having great conversations and so I'm like, if they can figure it out, other groups can figure it out too.

GLENN ELLIOTT: It's funny how often we think we can't do that and it actually turns out you can.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: They're just fine.

GLENN ELLIOTT: You can try. If it doesn't work, well we'll go back to how we did it before.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: That's right and we just worked really hard to communicate with them. This is going to change, this is not status, you're a pilot of a pilot. I think they liked being on the forefront of something different and new. Something that was inclusive of them and put the employees first. I think they like that.

GLENN ELLIOTT: The nice thing about being in a pilot, especially when you not a real pilot at the start, is what you're basically saying, is we're going to try this with you and we want to know what you think.


: So you're going to become part of making the future.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Part of the process.

: Yeah, which is nice, isn't it?


GLENN ELLIOTT: Rather than just being a pawn in it. It's cool.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Yeah and hopefully you create some good ambassadors along the way. It's been fun.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Very nice. We mentioned briefly your leadership team, your leadership structure and I know that, because in all businesses we have people that naturally want progression and they think, I think I want to be a team leader now and sometimes that's a great move for them and sometimes it's actually not really what they want.


: I know you've got like a structured training program that helps work out if it's right for them.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: We do, so we have classes that start even before you're a leader, to decide if being leader at Southwest is something that you want to do. Then if it is, then okay that's great, here's some of the core skills you need to start building. Then we have classes for those who are just stepping into their leadership role and then those who are stepping kind of into a manager level. Then we've got offerings at the director and above level, so we really try to make sure that leaders across the board are well taken care of.

GLENN ELLIOTT: That's great.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: We all know that people leave leaders, they don't leave companies and teams and things like that. Leaders are a pretty important asset to a company and I really feel like personally that your frontline leaders are probably the most important role that you have at a company, because they're the ones who are impacting your... focus on the day-to-day. If they're not doing a great job, then your employees are
definitely not going to be engaged. That's why we put a lot of effort into helping leaders be as good as they can be.

GLENN ELLIOTT: I understand. Well thank you very much Bonnie. I've spent a couple of hours with Bonnie today and not only do I want to work for Southwest Airlines this morning, I'm definitely flying with them from now on because it feels like an amazing company and I bet it feels great to be a customer of too.

Thank you very, very much Bonnie.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: You're very welcome. It's my pleasure.

GLENN ELLIOTT: We have loads more, including some great stuff from Southwest in the book Build It, The Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement available now at Amazon or your favorite bookstore. We have lots more interviews like this both in video and in podcast and written all on rebelplaybook.com, so we hope we&#39;ll find you more there.

Thanks ever so much Bonnie.

BONNIE ENDICOTT: Awesome. Thank you.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Thank you for watching.