Talent Management Success = Southwest Airlines

Success stories are useful ways to examine the role that talent management can play in the growth and development of an organization. Southwest Airlines is the largest domestic air carrier in the United States. It is also the only one that is, and has been, consistently profitable for a number of years.

Its success has been determined by a number of factors. 1) A clear and consistent strategy of democratizing the sky and travel for a low-cost; 2) Some key operational choices early in the airline’s development that allowed it to prosper, even if against conventional wisdom: No hubs, one type of airplane and going into cheaper airports within big city regions. 3) Some good decisions that impact operations in a real-time manner and 4) their talent strategy that puts employees first.

Southwest Airlines has built a powerful talent brand and every year there are over 100,000 applicants for about 5,000 jobs—so it’s harder to get a job at Southwest Airlines than to get into Harvard. Others have tried (and failed) to emulate the Southwest talent culture because of its role in the overall success of the airline. Success that I enjoy personally as a customer. For years now, my first choice for air travel is always Southwest Airlines.

This story shows that there are several reasons for success, not just talent management; but that, unlike gambles on the price of oil; talent is always a lever that can be developed and improved. Talent practices and integrated talent management are important today because they address vital strategic and organizational issues. It is not because these are HR or training priorities; it is because they directly impact intangible assets and an organization’s ability to compete.

For boards and CEOs the driver of mitigating risk through stronger talent pipelines is close behind productivity improvement (and in some cases is the number one driver). Organizations are stuck in the middle if leadership doesn’t recognize their organization’s most critical roles, or have talents pool ready to fill openings internally as they happen.

Cost savings are real, tangible and have a direct impact on effective talent management. The most obvious case is the money that is lost when valuable and talented employees leave an organization—unwanted turnover is more about talent mismanagement than talent management.  Integrated talent management, if practiced as a priority, is the best method in aligning the organization to better execute on its strategy.

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