How Perks Follow Values | By Libby Sartain

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Earlier this week week we looked at Tenet 1: Culture is defined by actions. Today we’re sharing a story about the ways in which dress code, vacation policies, office design and other perks follow an organization’s values. Perks reinforce culture, they don’t define it. Guest contributor Libby Sartain is the former Chief Human Resources Officer at Yahoo! and Southwest Airlines. Today she’s an Author, Speaker, Board Member and Advisor to for profit and non-profit organizations and startups, including RoundPegg.

How Perks Follow Values

At Southwest Airlines we didn’t like to boast about the innovations we brought to the business community. But, we had an expression we used often; “It ain’t bragging if it is true.”

As the media wrote about our unique culture, other companies tried to replicate it. Not to brag, but we invented the casual dress code in the early 90’s. It wasn’t intentional. We didn’t sit around in a corporate conference room and debate it. It just happened.

Our informal dress code emerged from a decision we made about employee uniforms. All customer-facing jobs at an airline require uniforms, mostly so that customers know who to approach for service, or to listen to while on board.

Traditionally these uniforms consisted of high heels, business suits and ties. While our all-female Flight Attendants had originally worn hot pants in the seventies, we eventually followed suit (pun intended).

In the mid-1980’s to promote cheaper fares called “fun fares” a new uniform of jams (colorful shorts), sneakers, and a short-sleeved shirt was issued for Flight Attendants to wear on the weekends—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Corporate office employees, who were then wearing business attire, asked if we could order the shorts and shirts and wear them on Friday.

Why not? We allowed it.

At first only a few corporate employees wore the uniform, but by the end of that long hot summer in Dallas, almost everybody did. After the marketing program was over, we found that our employees absolutely loved wearing the more casual garb. They were comfortable and relaxed and felt more free to focus on the customer.

We also noted lower workers’ comp claims related to foot problems. So, we decided to add shorts, casual slacks and tops, and white sneakers to our uniform. At first just on weekends, and then expanded it to every day. Our service was delivered differently, with warmth, friendliness and a very unique company spirit. So why shouldn’t our uniforms be more casual?

Soon we implemented casual Fridays—then casual summers. After two summers, it was all-casual. No dress code was ever written. And employees on a daily basis wore shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers daily.

Libby Sartain

As head of HR for both Yahoo! Inc. and Southwest Airlines, Libby led significant business transformation initiatives as a member of executive leadership teams and guided global human resources efforts focusing on attracting, retaining, and developing employees. Both Yahoo and Southwest were listed on the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For in America during her tenure.

In 2005, Libby was named by Human Resources Executive as one of the 25 most powerful women in HR.

She holds an MBA from the University of North Texas and resides in Bastrop, Texas with her husband.

Thanks for reading! Next week we’ll tackle Tenet 2: Everyone Contributes to Culture.

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