The Recognition Factor

Intended to motivate, reward, inspire and recognize; awards come in many shapes and sizes and for many a purpose. Though there is often a strong sense of humility or reticence on the part of the recipient, who doesn’t secretly wish for that moment to be presented an award in recognition of a job well done?

Southwest Airlines has a strong history of awards programs, employee recognition and rewards. In fact, one of the employee’s greatest coups was five years in the making, but it certainly paid off. The notorious and popular Herb Kelleher promised all workers, whether on the ramp or at corporate, if they kept profits up for five consecutive years, they could wear jeans every day of the week henceforth. Don’t make the mistake I did and wear a suit when visiting the Southwest headquarters … you will definitely stick out like a sore thumb!

Ramp Recognition
Coming in as GSE manager for Southwest Airlines nearly 10 years ago, one of Larry Laney’s first tasks was to develop an awards program for the folks in the GSE department. “The other departments, even the aircraft maintenance and ground ops, gave out awards, so it was time to do the same for GSE,” says Laney. It was in 2000 that Laney and his managers developed a quarterly and annual awards program for Southwest’s 22 internal GSE shops. The five award categories included “large top shop,” “small top shop,” “eastern region mechanic,” “western region mechanic” and “above and beyond.” After the second year, they decided it was important to include their contract maintenance locations (approximately 20), such as TUG, ASIG, Mercury, Oxford and AP Enterprises, which provide service to Southwest.

“In the East and in the West, we have mechanic of the quarter and then at the end of the year there is one top mechanic of the year for the whole system,” says Laney. “It’s our biggest honor in the internal awards program, then large shop, small shop, and then above and beyond … for employees who go above and beyond their duties, or do something for their coworkers or someone in the community.”

The employees from every shop converge each year on the large shop winner of the year (this year it was Nashville) for the annual awards banquet where the winners are presented with a plaque and the top shop is honored with what is symbolic of the Stanley Cup, according to Laney. “We have what looks like a Stanley Cup … a great big chrome python,” Laney says. “The maintenance guys in the shop built it and had it chromed. Every year we add the winner to the plaque and then we hand it around like a Stanley Cup. It’s pretty impressive and the guys are really proud to have it sitting in their operation.”

Assuring and Reassuring
This year the Southwest GSE department decided to expand the awards program to include their capital suppliers. “We have primary and secondary suppliers for most of our products, so we decided it was time that we include our partner capital suppliers,” states Laney. To make the selection, Laney conferred with the team of managers and foremen from all of the regions — the individuals who have to work with the suppliers’ products day in and day out who: watch that deliveries are on time, determine the effectiveness of the training provided, evaluate the reliability of the equipment, and know whether or not there is parts support.

This year’s Equipment Provider of the Year award reads: In recognition of your exemplary performance of 2007, TLD has met and exceeded Southwest’s expectations for on time deliveries, equipment reliability, customer service, parts support, training and has provided Southwest Airlines a great value as one of our primary equipment partners.

“TLD has been our primary GPU supplier for three years … they stood out and are the first recipient of the award,” Laney says. “They [TLD] made their deliveries on time; if there were issues they communicated with us and made sure we understood and knew why. But most important are Mike Rawls, TLD’s trainer and the face of customer service and Mark Blalock, vice president of sales and service. They have a great service team. Rawls exemplifies what SWA’s expectations of service are – he did what he said he would do, he communicated, he went beyond their expectations.”

“To have chosen us has been an honor,” says Blalock. “I have seen this airline grow and you know that customer service is their foundation. I think they used to have a motto ‘positively outrageous service (POS),’ so to be chosen by an airline that puts such high value on service, as a customer service-oriented supplier to them obviously means a great deal.”

Laney uses the term “best value.” It’s not just the piece of equipment, it’s the training, the service, the part — everything needed to keep the operation going after purchase. “You get the unit and then you are married to it, most of the time for 18 to 20 years. The quality coming out the door … it’s huge,” declares Laney. “Getting it right the first time and being reliable; it’s great for us.”