Organizational Control at Southwest Airlines

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Organizational control is a concept first articulated by Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and other social scientists of his time. The concept has since been expanded from taking corrective actions via the allocation of authority to proactively anticipating problems and solving them before they occur. Southwest Airlines (SWA) has been one of the most successful airline companies in the world and its success has been attributed to its innovative management style, which includes an inventive approach to the organizational control.

SWA aims to disperse management functions as widely as possible. This cannot be done without also dispersing accountability. Gittel (2003) remarked in his study, referring to SWA employees, that “Rather than just knowing what to do, they knew why” (Gittel, 2003, p.11). The critical acknowledgment that SWA makes is that the rank-and-file often knows more than management about problems that need to be addressed. By dispersing authority and including employees in the management process, SWA makes its organizational control stronger and more efficient. Hallowell’s (1996) case study of SWA attributed the company’s competitive advantage in large part to the fact that “Much of the value Southwest generates is (1) created through employee needs satisfaction, (2) converted to customer and shareholder value via organizational capabilities…” (Hallowell, 1996, p. 513). That a primary goal of management should be to identify and satisfy employee needs is a step forward from “old-school” management, which states that the customer’s needs are the only ones that count. Improving organizational morale is paramount o the company's success. It is hard not to infer a correlation between SWA’s employee satisfaction and the success of the business. Milliman, Ferguson, Trickett, and Condemi (1999), in a case study of SWA, found that a sense of community and “spiritual values can positively impact both profitability and employee attitudes in organizations” (Milliman et al., 1999, p. 221). The company’s organizational control, therefore, aims to instill a sense of shared goals in its employees rather than simply dictating tasks to them.


Gittell, J. H. (2003). The Southwest Airlines way: Using the power of relationships to achieve high performance. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Hallowell, R. (1996). Southwest Airlines: A case study linking employee needs satisfaction and organizational capabilities to competitive advantage. Human Resource Management, 35(4), 513-534.

Milliman, J., Ferguson, J., Trickett, D., & Condemi, B. (1999). Spirit and community at Southwest Airlines: An investigation of a spiritual values-based model. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12(3), 221-233.