Welcome Aboard – Permission to be Creative!

We know certain airlines have had a bit of bad press recently (namely dragging paying customers off their planes. If you haven’t heard about it where have you been?) However here’s an example to illustrate they don’t all get it wrong!


You may well have heard of or seen the numerous on line videos of South West Airlines employees doing announcements on board their planes – they are pretty infamous these days.


However in case anyone hasn’t seen them before, we’ve posted one above which has only just gone viral – in fact the lady in question in this video actually ended up on the Ellen (DeGeneres) show on US TV because of it.  However if you go on You Tube and plug in South West Airlines you can find a raft of videos, a particular favourite of ours is the guy who raps the safety announcement – not only is he very clever, he gets full audience participation.


However you might be asking what has all this got to do with leadership?


Well South West Airlines are a fascinating organisation.  In a previous blog we talked about Ken Blanchard extolling the virtues of servant leadership and this company is one that fully embraces that ideology.  However they also go one stage further and try to engender a truly creative environment – giving their employees permission to make the customer experience as fun and engaging as possible.  Given all the videos and comments they are certainly memorable.


They acknowledge that whilst there are certain things that have to be done, i.e. safety briefings etc, how they do them is left to the individual teams on board each plane.  This has the effect of creating a unique experience for the customer and perhaps more importantly allows individual team members to experiment and be creative, which in turn makes the job more fun and engaging both for them and the customers.


It’s actually a really clever strategy as you’ll see from the videos the passengers on board love it and become fully engaged in the whole thing, so much so that this company now has a reputation for hilarious announcements as so many travellers have filmed their experiences and posted them on line.  It’s like free advertising by their customers – the ultimate in word of mouth recommendation if you like.


It also means that employees are constantly trying to be more and more creative to make an impact, which raises a certain amount of healthy competition among the different on-board teams.


When most people think of creative organisations, places like Google usually spring to mind and their whacky premises, famous deck chair areas and indoor slides.  Yes all designed to help people be creative, but what South West Airlines have done really well is to tap into each individual’s creativity and sense of fun and give them freedom to express it, even when completing the most mundane and routine tasks.  This isn’t about fancy fixtures and fittings or innovative offices, it’s about the people!


It really got us thinking – if you as a leader can replicate what South West have done so well and tap into each individual’s creativity, giving them the freedom to experiment, how much impact could that have on the working environment and the customer experience, not to mention each individual’s personal motivation.  How much more might they be engaged in what they do and feel they have the power to influence how things are done?  How much more emotionally invested could they be in what they do, if they had the opportunity to seek out new ideas.


If you think this sounds good, step back and think about ways you could just engender a little of that excitement and creativity.  For example when was the last time you really encouraged someone to come up with a new way of doing something, just for the sake of it; when was the last time you decided to do something totally different in your team meeting?


Ask yourself honestly how much permission do your people have to be creative?  You never know they may well be full of ideas…. You just need to ask them!


Til next time


Martin and Elizabeth

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