by John Trybus, Managing Director
How’s this for an awesome job title: Senior Manager of Culture and Communications.
That’s the very cool title of this week’s very cool social strategist, Marilee McInnis of Southwest Airlines.
“It’s a title that means I get to do what I’m passionate about,” Marilee says with a laugh.
Marilee’s passion for Southwest is infectious and her dedication to the company has come to life in many ways through different positions throughout her career journey. After moving to Dallas years ago, she realized there was only one company for which she wanted to work: Southwest. Marilee started in the customer relations department literally from the ‘ground up.’
“There’s an anecdote that goes around that it’s harder to get into Southwest than it is to get into Harvard,” she says.
Through the years, Marilee has combined her love of company with her love of all things environmental sustainability and community outreach in an integrated role. “I sit within the community outreach team and we focus our efforts on making a positive difference on our communities, building strategic relationships and touching the passion points of our customers,” she explains.
Marilee’s work touches on everything from corporate reporting to leading a green team. Her work has been externally noticed time and again. She’s been named one of the top 35 Women in CSR by Triple Pundit and a Rising Green Star by FORTUNE Magazine, among other distinctions.
If you’ve ever flown Southwest (whose stock symbol is LUV, by the way) you know that the company’s culture is different, what the company likes to call a culture with “heart.” Here’s a preview of the ways in which Southwest communicates with heart that Marilee and I discuss in our interview:
- Toot the company’s social good horn loudly but balance with appropriate doses of authenticity and humility. It can be difficult for people internally within a company to understand that good work needs to be shared externally. Marilee describes that ongoing challenge: “Because [being a responsible company] is who we are and people hired here make it part of our DNA, they don’t talk about it much…they just do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s been an interesting journey to explain to people that we want to know how much you’re volunteering, that we want to know about the positive difference you’re making in your community and that we want to know that you’re passionate about the environment or whatever is close to your heart.”
- Tell the story with special words and not just statistics. Stories matters and words do too. “When we say we communicate with heart, [I mean that] Southwest has a language. We use words like spirit, heart, do the right thing, service heart and warrior spirit. We have an actual language at Southwest and when we’re communicating we try to tie those initiatives back to our principles and language,” Marilee says. How does the company tell stories well? Check out Southwest’s latest Corporate Citizenship Report to see how that comes to life.
- Empower employees to create a ripple effect that lets a company’s culture touch customers. Let’s hear it for employee engagement! Southwest sees employees as a key area where culture comes to life and for good reason. “Our employees are empowered to make decisions out in the field,” Marilee explains. “We trust that the decisions they’re going to make on behalf of customers are going to be the right ones…they’re empowered to make somebody’s day better.” She continues: “Employees are your best asset. They are your competitive advantage….When [you engage and empower them appropriately] you immediately have advocates who will continue to talk with pride in their company and will be able to advance the work you’re trying to do.”
Listen to my interview with social strategist Marilee McInnis to learn more about how the airline giant communicates with heart.