On Tuesday, the Department of Transportation's inspector general released a report that criticizes both the FAA's oversight of Southwest Airlines, as well as the airline's own company culture. According to the report, "FAA cannot provide assurances that the carrier operates at the highest degree of safety in the public's interest as required by law."

Considering how well-loved Southwest is among its customers, any company could learn from this criticism, which included the fact that, per the report, the airline flew as many as 150,000 flights on 88 aircraft that it couldn't confirm had had required maintenance completed. In many cases, the report further states, Southwest "operates its fleet of aircraft with frequent weight and balance errors," which were reported to pilots incorrectly. 

Among the statements from the FAA is the claim that "The safety culture at Southwest Airlines consists of using 'diversion, distraction, and power' to get what the company wants." That is a direct indictment of the culture and leadership of a company that has long prided itself on both.

In a statement, the airline disputed the findings of the safety audit:

We adamantly disagree with unsubstantiated references to Southwest's safety culture. Southwest maintains a culture of compliance recognizing the Safety of our operation as the most important thing we do. The success of our business depends, in and of itself, on the Safety of our operation, and while we work to improve each and every day, any implication that we would tolerate a relaxing of our standards is absolutely unfounded.

There's a valuable lesson here for every entrepreneur about how your company's culture reflects your values. Or, said another way, your culture reveals not who you say you are as a company but who you actually may be. Part of Southwest's is that it's a customer-friendly, no-frills airline that doesn't take itself too seriously. Except, there are some things that we expect an airline to take seriously.

Just because you say you're customer-friendly, it doesn't actually make it so. In fact, just because your outward policies (like no baggage fees) are popular among your customers, other things, like safety, are far more important.

Ultimately, your culture reflects the things you truly think are important. Your team will behave according to what they believe is important to leadership, and if they aren't doing the right things, it's on the leaders to take action.

Published on: Feb 12, 2020
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