There are many activities that will impact the success of Southwest Airlines in implementing a sustainable initiative into the future. Different types of activities target different areas of success within the sustainable initiative. One of the most significant barriers in implementing a sustainable initiative in an established, highly specialized organization like Southwest is involved in the entire organization adapting to the changes (Goncalves, 2007). As the organization makes changes, it is instrumental that everyone within the organization understands not only the reasoning and benefit of the change itself, but also how it modifies their role within the organization and what they must do as individuals in order to implement the change itself (Goncalves, 2007).
This issue involves information management. The information communicated to members at various levels of the organization must be highly controlled so that employees are not only receiving information that is pertinent to their roles, but also information that involves specific instructions on how they must adapt and what new processes and activities they must learn as employees. This can be difficult as the change is adopted simply because upper management and other leadership may not fully understand how specific roles within the organization must be modified until the actual change takes place (Jacobsen, 2011). For example, an employee in customer service may initially be expected to have minimal changes to their role, once the sustainable initiative is implemented in the organization it may soon become clear that it is wise for customer service representatives to have to learn the objectives and aims of the initiative in order to effectively complete their roles in communicating with the newly targeted market of environmentally conscious consumers.
While information management objectives can be achieved in a number of ways, one of the most comprehensive and dynamic ways of assisting in handling information during such a sweeping modification is to use a cloud-based knowledge management system. Such a system contains a cloud storage system that stores information that can be accessed by specific employees (Jacobsen, 2011). Individual roles within the organization can have specialized sections that detail their duties in adopting the change. It is through this knowledge management system that members of the organization can learn about their roles and the overall objectives of the change. Detailed plans can be fleshed out here and it can significantly cut down on the time needed for various individuals to understand the specific actions they can take to implement these new roles (Jacobsen, 2011).
However, the true value of the knowledge management system transcends simple communication of these roles. Cloud-based knowledge management allows the organization to make regular changes to the information being communicated (Jacobsen, 2011). As research and marketing activities become known and the extent of the change becomes more fully understood, the information in the cloud-based system can be modified by leaders and it will immediately be reflected in the information that all members of the organization can access. Communicating these minor changes and modifications can be as simple as leadership telling employees to revisit the cloud. There is no need for resource-intensive meetings and question-and-answer sessions to cover and explain every small modification that occurs as the change is adopted and the full extent of its modifications becomes clear (Jacobsen, 2011).
Furthermore, cloud-based management systems also support cloud-based applications (Jacobsen, 2011). In the context of this sustainable initiative, applications can encompass training modules in which employees can receive all of their training and learning through the cloud-based system. This is extremely resource and time friendly as employees can be encouraged to complete the training and learning modules at their leisure and at their own pace. Thus, not only is the learning more effective because employees can tailor it to their own schedules and learning preferences, but it also avoids wasting precious time and company resources that are involved in developing countless training sessions for such a sweeping change (Jacobsen, 2011).
The sub activities involved in implementing a cloud-based knowledge management system are to install the system software on the company system, to purchase the extra hardware (such as servers) to support the cloud system, and to find the right applications and information to populate the system so that all members of the organization can learn about the change, their roles, and how to implement the new processes (Jacobsen, 2011).
In order to more effectively complete the integration of this cloud-based management system, individuals should receive basic training on how to use the management system, both from the perspective of a user learning information as well as someone who needs to modify or add information. Users should also understand how to use this system as a communication medium in order to ask clarification questions and suggest helpful activities for individuals to better incorporate all of the facets of the change in their learning.
This change will improve workflow through the streamlining of the communication of information. Communication breakdowns can often result in the failure of sweeping initiatives such as this (Goncalves, 2007). By streamlining communication and training through this system, upper management can better manage the way that roles are modified. Furthermore, all members of the organization can understand the changes of certain roles so they can identify any areas where the training is insufficient or the role modification is incorrect (Goncalves, 2007). For instance, within the training of luggage handlers in how to be more efficient in their use of gas-guzzling vehicles, an executive can look on the system and see exactly what they are learning. Perhaps the information communicated to them overlooks the important aspect of keeping the vehicles at the most gas-efficient speed and they can suggest changes to the directing manager.
Systems theory is very important to this initiative simply because of the nature of the Southwest Airlines organizational structure. Before explaining what systems theory is, it is pertinent to cover a specific facet of Southwest Airlines. That is, that Southwest operates in a complex system of inputs in order to reach common goals (Gittell, 2003). Consider some of the things that go into a single successful flight for a consumer. The ticket must be purchased, luggage must be checked, the airplane must be available for boarding at the time booked, the pilots and attendant staff must be present, traffic controllers must correctly analyze when the flight can take off based on other flight paths and plane locations, and weather must be tracked to make sure there is no danger in flying, among many other factors (Lauer, 2010). Any failure in one of these areas results in failures and breakdowns in the rest of the system. Each step relies on the successful completion of the other steps. There must be trust in other members of the organization to effectively complete their roles. This demonstrates the fact that successful flights occur within the organization as a result of several interrelated processes (Gittell, 2003). Any successes or failures in one areas will support success and failures in other areas as well.
With this in mind, consider the systems theory of business management. Systems theory demands that management recognize the interconnected nature of organizations (Miles, 2012). Major changes cannot be exclusive to one area and by their very nature cannot be defined to a single department within a company. As every role within an organization completes their duties and fulfills their responsibilities, these individual successes contribute to the overall success of the large system as a whole (Miles, 2012). A system involves these various separate yet interrelated parts coming together for the good of the whole. The success of one set of goals supports the achievement of another set of goals which combine to support the overall mission of the organization (Miles, 2012). An organization as large and multifaceted as Southwest Airlines involves focus in many different areas of organizational management. For instance, successful luggage delivery, on time flight arrivals, and friendly flight staff all contribute to the objective of Southwest to achieve high ratings in customer satisfaction. Thus, systems theory cannot only be applied to Southwest, but it is instrumental in understanding the very nature of Southwest’s business model.
It is vital to the success of this initiative that Southwest embrace the systems theory of management as a method of implementing the change organization wide. While it may make sense to try to implement some of the role changes that come with such a sweeping initiative on a departmental basis over time, they must understand how the various roles contribute to one another and any change in a single department will inevitably bleed over into other departments and roles, sooner rather than later (Miles, 2012).
With this in mind, Southwest should implement modifications within the organization understanding that they will have an effect on the organization as a whole, not just in a single department. Embracing this fact is important, as a failure to recognize the systems theory in an organization as interconnected as Southwest could result in failure of the initiative as a whole as surprising difficulties manifest (Miles, 2012). Consider the following example to demonstrate the danger in failing to embrace the systems theory of management: luggage handlers are told to begin using vehicles more sparingly in order to save gas and reduce carbon emissions from these vehicles. This involves combining destinations on a single journey, loading the luggage keeping weight limits and efficient weight distributions in mind, and keeping the vehicles at a certain speed on their ways to load and unload planes. While this may seem restricted to only these luggage handlers, the new demands will result in increased time of luggage handling, loading and unloading. This will ultimately result in flight delays, which will result in lower customer satisfaction ratings due to the delays. As customer satisfaction is one of the primary objectives and focuses on Southwest, the simple decision to implement a change in one department without considering the systems theory results in a failure of a primary organizational objective (Southwest Airline Co., 2015).
Implementation of the systems theory of management is thus vital to the success of this initiative. In order to ensure that the initiative accomplishes the objectives of reducing costs, appealing to new target markets, and increasing profits, managers must understand systems theory in their decision making (Miles, 2012). Even low-level managers must understand that decisions made at their level transcend the scope of their control. When a decision is made at even the low levels of this organization, the effects of this decision will be felt in many other departments (Miles, 2012). Thus, especially during the adoption of this initiative, managers must keep not only their own direct sphere of influence in the forefront of their mind during decision making, but also those that rely on the department’s effectiveness as well.
There are so many best practices involved in environmentally sustainable business practices that to cover them all would exceed the scope of this paper. That being said, the number of available practices to help an organization adopt sustainability allows an organization to select the options which are most applicable to the organization’s abilities and circumstances.
One of the most common and easily understood factors in implementing sustainable initiatives is waste reduction (Jacobsen, 2011). The waste and pollution caused by organizations can often be very harmful for the environment. Southwest is an organization that, like all other airlines in this industry, produces a great deal of waste (Lauer, 2010). The use of planes and vehicles involved in successfully completing flight paths most always rely on gasoline. Fossil fuels are unsustainable and the carbon emissions produced in the utilization of fossil fuels directly influences climate change (Gittell, 2003). By focusing on reducing waste, organizations can lessen their carbon footprint and overall impact on the environment, which is an important step on the path to sustainability. In fact, one example of waste reduction already exists in the supply chain of the airline industry. Pratt and Whitney, a company that manufacturers engines for large jets, was able to reduce its own waste by 90% by having its supplier cast its metals into blade shapes before they even received the product (Lauer, 2010).
This example highlights another important area of sustainable practices. That is, forging supplier relations with the common goal of environmental sustainability (Jacobsen, 2011). Southwest relies upon suppliers for nearly every area of its operations, from the production of planes to the systems software that it uses for internal tracking and inventory management (Lauer, 2010). In order to reduce its own impact on the environment and align itself with a sustainable initiative, Southwest can form supplier relationships that represent a combined effort to be sustainable. As highlighted in the previous example, supplier activities and the circumstances under which products are delivered directly impact the ability of the organization to be environmentally sustainable. There are some organizations that choose to only purchase from suppliers who are green themselves (Jacobsen, 2011). This is an indirect way for organizations like Southwest to be environmentally sustainable in all areas of their business.
The final area of sustainability that will be discussed (but certainly not the final area where sustainability can be focused) is in resource productivity. Resources in a business are often conceptualized in terms of their productivity in achieving the mission of the organization (Jacobsen, 2011). Certain resources are already utilized to their fullest extent, while others represent a perfect opportunity to align with sustainable initiatives. To offer an example specific to Southwest, the cleaning and preparation of planes is something that is required before and after every flight in addition to refueling and fluid levels checks (Gittell, 2003). If more efficient methods of accomplishing these tasks are used within a revitalized process, Southwest can assign fewer employees to this activity, thereby getting higher productivity out of their employee resource. Similarly, other airlines have lessened the resources they use in a single flight in order to support sustainability and cut costs that can be redirected towards environmental initiatives. Decades ago, American Airlines was able to reduce its costs by tens of thousands of dollars by reducing the number of olives they included in on flight salads by one (Gittell, 2003).
The simulation demonstrated how much of a necessity organizational support at all levels is in implementing a sweeping change. This demonstrates the fact that sustainability is something that not only affects all levels of an organization, but must be actively pursued at every level. Sustainability occurs at the top level with important directional and strategic decision making (such as the decision to pursue an environmentally conscious target market of consumers), at the mid-level managerial level (such as coming up with processes that are environmentally sustainable), and at the bottom level of employees (such as implementing these operational changes to their activities so that the sustainability comes to fruition). This is an important lesson in supporting environmental sustainability that can be easily demonstrated by a simulation such as this seeking to implement a wide change.
Eco-fi, REKIXX, and Patagonia are organizations that sell clothes who have sought out to actively become green by utilizing recycled materials (Libo, 2012). These organizations have utilized environmental sustainability by taking water bottles and other plastic products and converting them into a type of polyester material that can be spun into clothing (Libo, 2012). By focusing on utilizing such materials, Eco-fi has been able to offer clothing made from 100% recycled materials.
Cases such as these demonstrate the inherent dual benefit of incorporating a clear focus on sustainability in this way. First of all, the company is able to be more sustainable by relying on recycled materials in its supply chain. This reduces the waste of the company and lessens the overall impact of the organization on the surrounding environment in its business (Jacobsen, 2011). Second, the organization opens itself up to new target markets and appealing factors in its product offering by being environmentally sustainable. Many consumers are more loyal to organizations that they feel are environmentally responsible and are taking active steps to lessen their environmental impact (Jacobsen, 2011). Furthermore, many of these same consumers are shown to be willing to pay higher prices at organizations that have these sustainable initiatives (Jacobsen, 2011). In this way, these organizations demonstrate how environmental sustainability can be used not only to pursue ethical responsibility, but also to achieve a competitive advantage.
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