Why and how Southwest Airlines uses consultants
Journal of Management Consulting; Milwaukee; Nov 1998; Libby Sartain;


Volume: 10
Issue: 2
Start Page: 12-17

Abstract:
Libby Sartain, Vice-President of People, Southwest Airlines, discusses why the company uses
management consultants. Management Consultants at Southwest are evaluated on these criteria: 1.
cost efficiency, 2 track record and reputation, 3. ability to listen to corporate goals, 4. people, 5.
culture fit, 6. honesty and integrity, and 7. customer service.

Full Text:
Copyright Journal of Management Consulting, Inc. Nov 1998


When I was asked "why and how Southwest Airlines uses consultants," I wondered if I should be direct,
as usual, or should I limit what I say or politely avoid saying anything that would be controversial,
shocking, or surprising-and then I remembered that you guys are consultants, and I really couldn't
shock you anyway.

Much of what I have to say will not be surprising either. After all, it shouldn't come as a surprise to hear
that when you are an executive for one of the most visible companies in the country, consultants by the
dozens try to see you.And it will also not come as a surprise that when a company is as distinctive in
its image and culture as Southwest Airlines, consultants by the dozens want to work with us.
(Sometimes we wonder if you want to work with us to make us better, or just to have our name on your
client list.)

Before I cover what works and what doesn't work for us in our relationships with consultants, I want to
give you some insight on Southwest Airlines.

Some Background

We are a little embarrassed by all the attention we've been getting lately.We receive innumerable calls
daily from other companies, the press, and consultants wanting to know our secrets. The demand for
benchmarking sessions has grown so high that we have had to create four annual Culture Days for
customers and companies who want to spend a day learning about our culture. This year, by word of
mouth, more than 1,000 companies have asked to attend, and we already have a waiting list for these
sessions. Sorry, but consultants are not invited. (Some consultants abused this privilege in the past by
marketing themselves as experts on SWA culture and selling for substantial fees the things they
learned from us as our guest. Maybe you can consider this from an ethical point of view?)

When we started flying 27 years ago with just three Boeing 737 aircraft in Texas, we never dreamed
we would be named the number one, best company to work for in America.We had only one objective
in mind: to give the Texas traveler the freedom to go from Dallas to Houston or San Antonio quickly,
efficiently, and at the lowest fare possible, while we made a modest profit. Today, we have grown to a
fleet of 262, and our average aircraft age is only eight years. We are no longer a "start-up" carrier. We
provide service to 52 airports in 51 cities throughout 25 states.We are the only major U.S. airline that
has been profitable since 1972, a string of 26 consecutive years.We are the fifth largest U.S. airline in
terms of originating domestic passengers boarded.

Since our beginning, Southwest has also stood for the highest standards of quality. Not only do our
customers get the lowest price, they get the best service-and that's not just our opinion. For the third
year in a row, we were rated at the top in terms of quality service in the Airline Quality Rating study
conducted by the W Frank Barton School of Business. We were ranked number one in Money
Magazine's rating of the major carriers, which was based on safety, price, on-time performance,
baggage handling, and customer service. And for the seventh year in a row, we had the best customer
satisfaction record of any major U.S. airline, based on Department of Transportation statistics.
Analysts and publications continue to study our unique operating, marketing, and people strategies,
trying to uncover the keys to our success. The truth is that we have no secrets. And it doesn't take
business consultants or Ph.D.'s to analyze our strategies.They are really quite simple. Our operation is
focused on point-to-point service in short-haul markets with conveniently timed flights. Our average trip
length is 431 miles, or about 80 minutes. We keep our costs and our fares low by maintaining the
highest asset utilization and employee productivity of any major U.S. airline. Since our trips are short,
we offer single-class service with open seating and beverage-and-peanut-only service on most
flights.We operate only one aircraft type, allowing our people to specialize in flying and maintaining
only 737s. Unlike our competitors, who utilized a hub-and-spoke system, our planes are scheduled to
minimize time on the ground at the gate, thereby reducing the number of aircraft and gate facilities
needed.We have literally changed the airline industry and the public's traveling habits and
expectations by giving everyone the freedom to fly.We provide this freedom by offering low fares,
frequent flights, and a casual everyday atmosphere. We give the American public the freedom to go,
see, and do things they couldn't ten or twenty years ago. Our success is also a direct result of our
culture. Because much has been written about our culture, other companies have tried to imitate our
famous service. But culture wasn't deliberately created at the beginning, it just evolved. We had to
wage a war to fly our first flight, so we developed an underdog mentality. We had to fight to remain at
Love Field (Dallas/Ft. Worth); thus, Love became part of our basic heritage. When we had to sell one
of our four planes to make payroll, our ten-minute turn was created.We learned to do more with less to
use our equipment and people in the most productive manner.

We have always been considered a maverick company. Without ever intending to, we have changed
the face of business in America by providing the freedom to fly at an affordable price and in a
comfortable, unpretentious atmosphere.We were one of the first companies to discover that it is okay
to have fun while working. In fact, we found that a fun environment energizes and mobilizes our people
and creates customer loyalty.We created casual Fridays and casual attire for uniformed employees.

We discovered ahead of many of our competitors that our people really did make the difference.We
created our People Department and an atmosphere that allows our employees the freedom to be
themselves, to generate creative ideas, and we allowed them the freedom to make decisions at the
front line when they needed to make things right for an external customer.

So Why and How Would We Use Consultants?

Well, for a company our size, we really do not use very many consultants. Over the years, we have
found that our practical and down-toearth culture allows us to be very creative and to easily identify
many of our own problems and solutions. Keeping things simple has allowed us the advantage of
speed and flexibility over our competition.To outsiders, our simple structure seems amateurish or
unsophisticated. Occasionally, we are contacted by consultants who suggest that we are doing it all
wrong. (Compensation consultants are famous for this.) These self-appointed experts use jargon and
suggest trendy ideas to solve problems we didn't even know we had.We don't hire these consultants.

Consultants are, by our definition, very expensive animals. (What is that old joke? A consultant will
borrow your watch to tell you what time it is and then keep your watch.) Generally, we prefer to invest in
our own people rather than in temporary consultants.We do not want the training and development
know-how lost on consultants. Our folks are inherently more loyal and dedicated to doing what is best
for Southwest Airlines than a high-priced snake oil salesman would ever be.

Outside resources can be helpful in certain situations but we do not usually look for someone to
consult with us. We want you to do something, rather than offer advice.We want to see you work as
hard as, if not harder than, we do to fulfill our needs.

We do not want to pay consultants for their ideas.We have lots of ideas.We need your focus,
tried-and-true methodology, and resources.We need you to help us streamline or simplify the 900
internal ideas we have generated into the most desired solutions. We need your skills in facilitation,
methodology, and technology to bring out our ideas, put them together into a project plan, and mobilize
us to complete the task at hand.

For us, the bottom line is that before we use a consultant, the project has to be of sufficient potential
economic benefit to justify what we perceive as your exorbitant fees.

The following are five general scenarios where we have found using consultants to be beneficial:

The knowledge or people-power to get the job done is clearly outside of our internal capabilities.We
do not have the internal expertise, the solutions we have tried have not been successful, or we need
part-time or temporary expert assistance, which does not justify adding permanent internal
capabilities. We have hired consultants to help in many different situations: An employment consultant
we hired helped us develop a sourcing plan for information systems professionals; an actuary does
several short-term projects on an ongoing basis; a benefits consultant helped us determine the costs
associated with implementing a new benefit plan proposed at the union bargaining table;
management information systems consultants helped in the development of a project by transferring
their knowledge and technical experience to our people; experts in an extremely technical area helped
us set up an ongoing program to comply with legislation.

We have the internal expertise or knowledge, but the project is huge or the workload would be too
large for our internal resources. Of course, the economic impact of deferring the project would have to
be sufficient enough to justify those gargantuan fees. Example: process improvement and
reengineering of our maintenance engine and parts inventory. The savings potential is substantial, yet
the project is too large to be tackled with internal people only. In these efforts we would look for proven
methodology, focus, and expertise that we do not possess in-house.

A project is so important that we become absolutely risk intolerant. We want to hire an expert to
ensure that we are on the right track. We hire a firm that has completed many similar assignments for
other companies and that has access to people-power on very short order. In this case we would look
for project management expertise and proven ability to deliver results within the desired time
frames.We would expect that a consultant hired under this scenario would bring focus and proven
methodology to our project. However, we would not look for a "cookie cutter" off-the-shelf solution. (An
example would be our Year 2,000 project.)

Sometimes a change in the way we are doing things is necessary. We might hire someone to come in
as a change agent. Occasionally, we are aware of issues and problems that need solving, yet we have
difficulty pushing the desired solutions through the organization or getting buy-in by all necessary
players. A consultant may be brought in to confirm that the suspected problems need solutions and to
bring about a speedy resolution of the issues. In this scenario, the consultant would also need
expertise at bringing in all of the key players and stakeholders from the onset to obtain commitment
and ownership. (An example is the Frieberg attitude survey and assessment in the case of problem
locations and departments.)

We might hire consultants for who they know versus what they know.We may hire consultants for their
proven ability to persuade and influence a particular constituency better than we can. (Examples may
be lobbyists to work on particular proposed legislation on our behalf or headhunters with access to
specific types of candidates.)

How Do We Evaluate Consultants?

This is what we look for during the selection process:

Cost Efficiency

Let's face it. One of the reasons for Southwest's success today has been our cost efficiency. We are
not going to hire a consultant unless the proposal contains a proven cost benefit for our company. That
said, we also would not select a consultant simply on the basis of being the low bidder. It has been our
experience that you all charge the same inconceivable fees.What really matters to us is what we feel
you will be able to deliver of value to Southwest Airlines.The business case for using outside
resources is simple. The benefit derived from the work effort using the more expensive consultant
must exceed the benefit derived from using the less expensive alternative, after considering the cost of
the resources.And the higher-cost consultant must generate better results to justify the higher costs.

Track Record and Reputation

We look to your past successes:Which projects have you done for others with outcomes similar to our
desired outcome? Who are your clients?What do they say about your work?Yes, we will check
references, and we will look for clients who are not listed on your client list. Do You Get It?

How well did you listen to our goals? Did you get it when we explained our expected project scope and
corresponding deliverables? Are you willing to commit to specific and tangible outcomes rather than
fuzzy concepts on first phases of work? Do you clearly explain your fees and our costs?We do not like
surprises after the fact. To deliver high-impact/high-value consulting, our consultants will have to take
time to understand us, to listen to our needs and the intent of our project. We will expect you to simplify
and speed up results rather than bog us down with details like cumbersome flow charts, models,
project plans, and so on. Sometimes you guys are so determined to have all the right answers that you
do not stop long enough to ask the right questions.

People

Who are your people and what expertise do they bring to the table? Relationships are very important
to us at Southwest Airlines. It is important for us to work with a consultant who is willing to commit to a
relationship rather than simply the project at hand. We work better with people we like and with people
who will become part of our team, even though they are not on our payroll. Project work is just too
intense for us to be trapped with difficult working relationships.We want to collaborate but we cannot
do that with people whose egos get in the way of sharing the effort to find a solution. Are your people
going to be willing to transfer their knowledge to our Southwest people? We want to work with people
who are experienced, confident, and unafraid to make a suggestion that may be unpopular. We want
them to take a risk in being wrong. We look for real people versus clones or robots.

Culture Fit of Your People and Your Firm

Ultimately, consultants who work with us must be able to work in our environment-understanding and
fitting into our culture with as little disruption as possible. We will insist that everyone you assign to our
project fit in. If they do not, they will be ejected like a virus among antibodies. In fact, we will want to
meet or even interview each team member, and put him or her through our culture training. (We do this
with our vendors too.)


"I've asked you all here today to
brainstorm ways to reduce staff."


People who work well in our culture love to work with us. In fact, we often form great friendships. I meet
our consultants at almost every SWA social function, from our famous weekly deck parties to our
awards banquet.We often honor our best consultants as our partners with special awards.You cannot
distinguish these folks from any other SWA people; they adopt our casual dress, they tell great jokes,
they have fun, and they work their tails off.

Honesty and Integrity

Our need for strong relationships notwithstanding, we look for consultants who will be candid with us.
We do not want you to tell us what you think we want to hear. In order to be successful at this, a high
level of trust must first be established. We will look for sincerity and good intentions, and will want to
see that you want only the best for SWA.

Your code of ethics must start with doing the right thing for SWA versus feathering your own nest. For
example, we will be very suspect of solutions that include a lifelong dependence on you or your firm.
(Example: firms who recommend their system as the only solution, such as the ergonomics consultant
who recommended office equipment he manufactured.) We will lose confidence when promised
outcomes are not delivered on time.We expect you to underpromise and overdeliver, not vice versa.

Customer Service

Some describe our culture as customer-service driven. That is true, but at Southwest, we have two
kinds of customers: internal customers (our employees) and external customers. (Actually, when we
write the word customer, normally we capitalize the letter C. And when we write the word employee it
is with a capital E.) Internal and external customer service is a way of life for every Southwest
employee. In fact our mission statement says it all:

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered
with a sense of warmth,friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. To our Employees: We are
committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning
and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of
Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring
attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest
Customer.

We expect our consultants to treat our people the same way we would treat each other. If we spot
arrogant consultant jargon, we won't hire you. Consultants who talk down to our people or who tell us
how smart they are will not work well with us.

How Will We Evaluate Your Performance?

It will be pretty simple, really: Were you able to generate tangible, timely results without leaving dead
bodies in your wake?

2. Did you share your knowledge and experience in a way that produced additional future benefits for
SWA?

Did you take ownership and responsibility for results rather than viewing your work with us as short
term?

For us, you demonstrate high-impact/highvalue consulting when you demonstrate that your
monumental fees were more than off set by the gain in experience with results of a magnitude and in a
time frame that would have been difficult-if not impossible-for us to achieve on our own.

5. And, most important, did you leave?

We have had excellent results with many of our consultants-Ernst and Young, Current Assets, Mercer,
Hewitt,Towers Perrin-to name a few. We have also had a few horror stories; don't worry, I won't
mention names. Most of these were caused by failure to deliver results, by people who did not work
well with our people, and by failure to understand our needs. None of our consulting arrangements
have been perfect, but following is a description of one good relationship given to me by a fellow
member of SWA senior management:

[The consultant] used his personal knowledge of the industry to direct SWA into areas that have led to
large cost savings in a relatively short period of time. He quickly realized cultural differences inherent
in making some recommended changes, and became very proactive in utilizing his change
management skills to lower barriers to success. He has been quick to push when necessary and to
back off when warranted. He has mentored a number of Southwest people, and through their working
relationship with him they have learned new skills. He is willing to admit mistakes and work toward
amicable solutions, and he constantly looks at challenges from our perspectiveall while working as
hard as we did and continuing to look for additional cost-savings opportunities.

Conclusion

I would like to conclude by summarizing some very simple ways for you to deliver high-impact/
high-value consulting to a client like SWA: Do your homework. Much has been written about SWA, it
really isn't very difficult to find out everything that you need to know about us.

Listen to us. Get to know us; this can't happen overnight and doesn't usually happen in formal
meetings.

Ask questions. It goes right along with listening. Challenge us in a positive manner when what we say
does not make sense to you.

Cool it. Don't put on airs or tell us how brilliant you are-even if you are brilliant. Intimidation tactics don't
work with companies like SWA. Several of our consultants no longer work with us because they
created bad feelings with the project team.

Forget your jargon,fad remedies, and consultant language. We do not like visioning exercises,
reengineering, total quality management, process improvement, best practices, and all the rest. When
you convince our folks to speak in your language, it may create internal barriers. We like to get
together, share ideas, develop plans, make things happen, and produce results.

Share. Encourage an atmosphere of collaboration; ensure that everyone's ideas are considered, and
encourage active participation and ownership by all. Realize that, in the end, the final product is most
important, not whose idea it was and who did what part of the project.Teach us what you know.When
you leave, leave us with better focus, skills, and processes.

Follow up. If you make a commitment, honor it. If you owe us something, deliver it. We have our own
people to lead, don't make us manage you and your people too.

Customize. Don't lift your product off the shelf or duplicate work you have done for someone else. We
believed you when you told us you understood our needs were unique and we were special.

Do a good job. And let us be the judge of that. Don't tell us what a good job you did. And finally,

Act like a tree and leave. Even though we will love you, we want you to finish the job and go away,
unless you want to join us as an employee. This has happened several times. These consultants took
huge cuts in pay to be part of our family.

[Sidebar]
Straight talk about the use of consultants at a thriving company.

[Sidebar]
Une discussion franche sur t' emp(oi de consultants par une societe florissante.

[Sidebar]
Unverbtamte Ansichten fiber die Verwendung von Beratern in einem erfolgreichen Unternehmen.

[Footnote]
*Adapted from a talk at the annual conference of the Institute of Management Consultants (U.S.), Dallas, Texas, May
1,1998.

[Author note]
LIBBY SARTAIN, VP People, has been part of Southwest Airlines unique and zany culture since 1989. Earlier, she worked in
the human resources field, specializing in compensation, benefits, and human resources information systems. She has
served on the board of the Society for Human Resource Management. Ms. Sartain holds an MBA from the University of North
Texas, and in 1995 was named outstanding alumna of the Department of Management.

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12-17

Abstract:
Libby Sartain, Vice-President of People, Southwest Airlines, discusses why the company uses
management consultants. Management Consultants at Southwest are evaluated on these criteria: 1.
cost efficiency, 2 track record and reputation, 3. ability to listen to corporate goals, 4. people, 5.
culture fit, 6. honesty and integrity, and 7. customer service.

Full Text:
Copyright Journal of Management Consulting, Inc. Nov 1998


When I was asked "why and how Southwest Airlines uses consultants," I wondered if I should be direct,
as usual, or should I limit what I say or politely avoid saying anything that would be controversial,
shocking, or surprising-and then I remembered that you guys are consultants, and I really couldn't
shock you anyway.

Much of what I have to say will not be surprising either. After all, it shouldn't come as a surprise to hear
that when you are an executive for one of the most visible companies in the country, consultants by the
dozens try to see you.And it will also not come as a surprise that when a company is as distinctive in
its image and culture as Southwest Airlines, consultants by the dozens want to work with us.
(Sometimes we wonder if you want to work with us to make us better, or just to have our name on your
client list.)

Before I cover what works and what doesn't work for us in our relationships with consultants, I want to
give you some insight on Southwest Airlines.

Some Background

We are a little embarrassed by all the attention we've been getting lately.We receive innumerable calls
daily from other companies, the press, and consultants wanting to know our secrets. The demand for
benchmarking sessions has grown so high that we have had to create four annual Culture Days for
customers and companies who want to spend a day learning about our culture. This year, by word of
mouth, more than 1,000 companies have asked to attend, and we already have a waiting list for these
sessions. Sorry, but consultants are not invited. (Some consultants abused this privilege in the past by
marketing themselves as experts on SWA culture and selling for substantial fees the things they
learned from us as our guest. Maybe you can consider this from an ethical point of view?)

When we started flying 27 years ago with just three Boeing 737 aircraft in Texas, we never dreamed
we would be named the number one, best company to work for in America.We had only one objective
in mind: to give the Texas traveler the freedom to go from Dallas to Houston or San Antonio quickly,
efficiently, and at the lowest fare possible, while we made a modest profit. Today, we have grown to a
fleet of 262, and our average aircraft age is only eight years. We are no longer a "start-up" carrier. We
provide service to 52 airports in 51 cities throughout 25 states.We are the only major U.S. airline that
has been profitable since 1972, a string of 26 consecutive years.We are the fifth largest U.S. airline in
terms of originating domestic passengers boarded.

Since our beginning, Southwest has also stood for the highest standards of quality. Not only do our
customers get the lowest price, they get the best service-and that's not just our opinion. For the third
year in a row, we were rated at the top in terms of quality service in the Airline Quality Rating study
conducted by the W Frank Barton School of Business. We were ranked number one in Money
Magazine's rating of the major carriers, which was based on safety, price, on-time performance,
baggage handling, and customer service. And for the seventh year in a row, we had the best customer
satisfaction record of any major U.S. airline, based on Department of Transportation statistics.
Analysts and publications continue to study our unique operating, marketing, and people strategies,
trying to uncover the keys to our success. The truth is that we have no secrets. And it doesn't take
business consultants or Ph.D.'s to analyze our strategies.They are really quite simple. Our operation is
focused on point-to-point service in short-haul markets with conveniently timed flights. Our average trip
length is 431 miles, or about 80 minutes. We keep our costs and our fares low by maintaining the
highest asset utilization and employee productivity of any major U.S. airline. Since our trips are short,
we offer single-class service with open seating and beverage-and-peanut-only service on most
flights.We operate only one aircraft type, allowing our people to specialize in flying and maintaining
only 737s. Unlike our competitors, who utilized a hub-and-spoke system, our planes are scheduled to
minimize time on the ground at the gate, thereby reducing the number of aircraft and gate facilities
needed.We have literally changed the airline industry and the public's traveling habits and
expectations by giving everyone the freedom to fly.We provide this freedom by offering low fares,
frequent flights, and a casual everyday atmosphere. We give the American public the freedom to go,
see, and do things they couldn't ten or twenty years ago. Our success is also a direct result of our
culture. Because much has been written about our culture, other companies have tried to imitate our
famous service. But culture wasn't deliberately created at the beginning, it just evolved. We had to
wage a war to fly our first flight, so we developed an underdog mentality. We had to fight to remain at
Love Field (Dallas/Ft. Worth); thus, Love became part of our basic heritage. When we had to sell one
of our four planes to make payroll, our ten-minute turn was created.We learned to do more with less to
use our equipment and people in the most productive manner.

We have always been considered a maverick company. Without ever intending to, we have changed
the face of business in America by providing the freedom to fly at an affordable price and in a
comfortable, unpretentious atmosphere.We were one of the first companies to discover that it is okay
to have fun while working. In fact, we found that a fun environment energizes and mobilizes our people
and creates customer loyalty.We created casual Fridays and casual attire for uniformed employees.

We discovered ahead of many of our competitors that our people really did make the difference.We
created our People Department and an atmosphere that allows our employees the freedom to be
themselves, to generate creative ideas, and we allowed them the freedom to make decisions at the
front line when they needed to make things right for an external customer.

So Why and How Would We Use Consultants?

Well, for a company our size, we really do not use very many consultants. Over the years, we have
found that our practical and down-toearth culture allows us to be very creative and to easily identify
many of our own problems and solutions. Keeping things simple has allowed us the advantage of
speed and flexibility over our competition.To outsiders, our simple structure seems amateurish or
unsophisticated. Occasionally, we are contacted by consultants who suggest that we are doing it all
wrong. (Compensation consultants are famous for this.) These self-appointed experts use jargon and
suggest trendy ideas to solve problems we didn't even know we had.We don't hire these consultants.

Consultants are, by our definition, very expensive animals. (What is that old joke? A consultant will
borrow your watch to tell you what time it is and then keep your watch.) Generally, we prefer to invest in
our own people rather than in temporary consultants.We do not want the training and development
know-how lost on consultants. Our folks are inherently more loyal and dedicated to doing what is best
for Southwest Airlines than a high-priced snake oil salesman would ever be.

Outside resources can be helpful in certain situations but we do not usually look for someone to
consult with us. We want you to do something, rather than offer advice.We want to see you work as
hard as, if not harder than, we do to fulfill our needs.

We do not want to pay consultants for their ideas.We have lots of ideas.We need your focus,
tried-and-true methodology, and resources.We need you to help us streamline or simplify the 900
internal ideas we have generated into the most desired solutions. We need your skills in facilitation,
methodology, and technology to bring out our ideas, put them together into a project plan, and mobilize
us to complete the task at hand.

For us, the bottom line is that before we use a consultant, the project has to be of sufficient potential
economic benefit to justify what we perceive as your exorbitant fees.

The following are five general scenarios where we have found using consultants to be beneficial:

The knowledge or people-power to get the job done is clearly outside of our internal capabilities.We
do not have the internal expertise, the solutions we have tried have not been successful, or we need
part-time or temporary expert assistance, which does not justify adding permanent internal
capabilities. We have hired consultants to help in many different situations: An employment consultant
we hired helped us develop a sourcing plan for information systems professionals; an actuary does
several short-term projects on an ongoing basis; a benefits consultant helped us determine the costs
associated with implementing a new benefit plan proposed at the union bargaining table;
management information systems consultants helped in the development of a project by transferring
their knowledge and technical experience to our people; experts in an extremely technical area helped
us set up an ongoing program to comply with legislation.

We have the internal expertise or knowledge, but the project is huge or the workload would be too
large for our internal resources. Of course, the economic impact of deferring the project would have to
be sufficient enough to justify those gargantuan fees. Example: process improvement and
reengineering of our maintenance engine and parts inventory. The savings potential is substantial, yet
the project is too large to be tackled with internal people only. In these efforts we would look for proven
methodology, focus, and expertise that we do not possess in-house.

A project is so important that we become absolutely risk intolerant. We want to hire an expert to
ensure that we are on the right track. We hire a firm that has completed many similar assignments for
other companies and that has access to people-power on very short order. In this case we would look
for project management expertise and proven ability to deliver results within the desired time
frames.We would expect that a consultant hired under this scenario would bring focus and proven
methodology to our project. However, we would not look for a "cookie cutter" off-the-shelf solution. (An
example would be our Year 2,000 project.)

Sometimes a change in the way we are doing things is necessary. We might hire someone to come in
as a change agent. Occasionally, we are aware of issues and problems that need solving, yet we have
difficulty pushing the desired solutions through the organization or getting buy-in by all necessary
players. A consultant may be brought in to confirm that the suspected problems need solutions and to
bring about a speedy resolution of the issues. In this scenario, the consultant would also need
expertise at bringing in all of the key players and stakeholders from the onset to obtain commitment
and ownership. (An example is the Frieberg attitude survey and assessment in the case of problem
locations and departments.)

We might hire consultants for who they know versus what they know.We may hire consultants for their
proven ability to persuade and influence a particular constituency better than we can. (Examples may
be lobbyists to work on particular proposed legislation on our behalf or headhunters with access to
specific types of candidates.)

How Do We Evaluate Consultants?

This is what we look for during the selection process:

Cost Efficiency

Let's face it. One of the reasons for Southwest's success today has been our cost efficiency. We are
not going to hire a consultant unless the proposal contains a proven cost benefit for our company. That
said, we also would not select a consultant simply on the basis of being the low bidder. It has been our
experience that you all charge the same inconceivable fees.What really matters to us is what we feel
you will be able to deliver of value to Southwest Airlines.The business case for using outside
resources is simple. The benefit derived from the work effort using the more expensive consultant
must exceed the benefit derived from using the less expensive alternative, after considering the cost of
the resources.And the higher-cost consultant must generate better results to justify the higher costs.

Track Record and Reputation

We look to your past successes:Which projects have you done for others with outcomes similar to our
desired outcome? Who are your clients?What do they say about your work?Yes, we will check
references, and we will look for clients who are not listed on your client list. Do You Get It?

How well did you listen to our goals? Did you get it when we explained our expected project scope and
corresponding deliverables? Are you willing to commit to specific and tangible outcomes rather than
fuzzy concepts on first phases of work? Do you clearly explain your fees and our costs?We do not like
surprises after the fact. To deliver high-impact/high-value consulting, our consultants will have to take
time to understand us, to listen to our needs and the intent of our project. We will expect you to simplify
and speed up results rather than bog us down with details like cumbersome flow charts, models,
project plans, and so on. Sometimes you guys are so determined to have all the right answers that you
do not stop long enough to ask the right questions.

People

Who are your people and what expertise do they bring to the table? Relationships are very important
to us at Southwest Airlines. It is important for us to work with a consultant who is willing to commit to a
relationship rather than simply the project at hand. We work better with people we like and with people
who will become part of our team, even though they are not on our payroll. Project work is just too
intense for us to be trapped with difficult working relationships.We want to collaborate but we cannot
do that with people whose egos get in the way of sharing the effort to find a solution. Are your people
going to be willing to transfer their knowledge to our Southwest people? We want to work with people
who are experienced, confident, and unafraid to make a suggestion that may be unpopular. We want
them to take a risk in being wrong. We look for real people versus clones or robots.

Culture Fit of Your People and Your Firm

Ultimately, consultants who work with us must be able to work in our environment-understanding and
fitting into our culture with as little disruption as possible. We will insist that everyone you assign to our
project fit in. If they do not, they will be ejected like a virus among antibodies. In fact, we will want to
meet or even interview each team member, and put him or her through our culture training. (We do this
with our vendors too.)


"I've asked you all here today to brainstorm ways to reduce staff."


People who work well in our culture love to work with us. In fact, we often form great friendships. I meet
our consultants at almost every SWA social function, from our famous weekly deck parties to our
awards banquet.We often honor our best consultants as our partners with special awards.You cannot
distinguish these folks from any other SWA people; they adopt our casual dress, they tell great jokes,
they have fun, and they work their tails off.

Honesty and Integrity

Our need for strong relationships notwithstanding, we look for consultants who will be candid with us.
We do not want you to tell us what you think we want to hear. In order to be successful at this, a high
level of trust must first be established. We will look for sincerity and good intentions, and will want to
see that you want only the best for SWA.

Your code of ethics must start with doing the right thing for SWA versus feathering your own nest. For
example, we will be very suspect of solutions that include a lifelong dependence on you or your firm.
(Example: firms who recommend their system as the only solution, such as the ergonomics consultant
who recommended office equipment he manufactured.) We will lose confidence when promised
outcomes are not delivered on time.We expect you to underpromise and overdeliver, not vice versa.

Customer Service

Some describe our culture as customer-service driven. That is true, but at Southwest, we have two
kinds of customers: internal customers (our employees) and external customers. (Actually, when we
write the word customer, normally we capitalize the letter C. And when we write the word employee it
is with a capital E.) Internal and external customer service is a way of life for every Southwest
employee. In fact our mission statement says it all:

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered
with a sense of warmth,friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. To our Employees: We are
committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning
and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of
Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring
attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest
Customer.

We expect our consultants to treat our people the same way we would treat each other. If we spot
arrogant consultant jargon, we won't hire you. Consultants who talk down to our people or who tell us
how smart they are will not work well with us.

How Will We Evaluate Your Performance?

It will be pretty simple, really: Were you able to generate tangible, timely results without leaving dead
bodies in your wake?

2. Did you share your knowledge and experience in a way that produced additional future benefits for
SWA?

Did you take ownership and responsibility for results rather than viewing your work with us as short
term?

For us, you demonstrate high-impact/highvalue consulting when you demonstrate that your
monumental fees were more than off set by the gain in experience with results of a magnitude and in a
time frame that would have been difficult-if not impossible-for us to achieve on our own.

5. And, most important, did you leave?

We have had excellent results with many of our consultants-Ernst and Young, Current Assets, Mercer,
Hewitt,Towers Perrin-to name a few. We have also had a few horror stories; don't worry, I won't
mention names. Most of these were caused by failure to deliver results, by people who did not work
well with our people, and by failure to understand our needs. None of our consulting arrangements
have been perfect, but following is a description of one good relationship given to me by a fellow
member of SWA senior management:

[The consultant] used his personal knowledge of the industry to direct SWA into areas that have led to
large cost savings in a relatively short period of time. He quickly realized cultural differences inherent
in making some recommended changes, and became very proactive in utilizing his change
management skills to lower barriers to success. He has been quick to push when necessary and to
back off when warranted. He has mentored a number of Southwest people, and through their working
relationship with him they have learned new skills. He is willing to admit mistakes and work toward
amicable solutions, and he constantly looks at challenges from our perspectiveall while working as
hard as we did and continuing to look for additional cost-savings opportunities.

Conclusion

I would like to conclude by summarizing some very simple ways for you to deliver high-impact/
high-value consulting to a client like SWA: Do your homework. Much has been written about SWA, it
really isn't very difficult to find out everything that you need to know about us.

Listen to us. Get to know us; this can't happen overnight and doesn't usually happen in formal
meetings.

Ask questions. It goes right along with listening. Challenge us in a positive manner when what we say
does not make sense to you.

Cool it. Don't put on airs or tell us how brilliant you are-even if you are brilliant. Intimidation tactics don't
work with companies like SWA. Several of our consultants no longer work with us because they
created bad feelings with the project team.

Forget your jargon,fad remedies, and consultant language. We do not like visioning exercises,
reengineering, total quality management, process improvement, best practices, and all the rest. When
you convince our folks to speak in your language, it may create internal barriers. We like to get
together, share ideas, develop plans, make things happen, and produce results.

Share. Encourage an atmosphere of collaboration; ensure that everyone's ideas are considered, and
encourage active participation and ownership by all. Realize that, in the end, the final product is most
important, not whose idea it was and who did what part of the project.Teach us what you know.When
you leave, leave us with better focus, skills, and processes.

Follow up. If you make a commitment, honor it. If you owe us something, deliver it. We have our own
people to lead, don't make us manage you and your people too.

Customize. Don't lift your product off the shelf or duplicate work you have done for someone else. We
believed you when you told us you understood our needs were unique and we were special.

Do a good job. And let us be the judge of that. Don't tell us what a good job you did. And finally,

Act like a tree and leave. Even though we will love you, we want you to finish the job and go away,
unless you want to join us as an employee. This has happened several times. These consultants took
huge cuts in pay to be part of our family.

[Sidebar]
Straight talk about the use of consultants at a thriving company.

[Sidebar]
Une discussion franche sur t' emp(oi de consultants par une societe florissante.

[Sidebar]
Unverbtamte Ansichten fiber die Verwendung von Beratern in einem erfolgreichen Unternehmen.

[Footnote]
*Adapted from a talk at the annual conference of the Institute of Management Consultants (U.S.), Dallas, Texas, May
1,1998.

[Author note]
LIBBY SARTAIN, VP People, has been part of Southwest Airlines unique and zany culture since 1989. Earlier, she worked in
the human resources field, specializing in compensation, benefits, and human resources information systems. She has
served on the board of the Society for Human Resource Management. Ms. Sartain holds an MBA from the University of North
Texas, and in 1995 was named outstanding alumna of the Department of Management.

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