'How to Create a Happy Workplace'

Introduction to the First Chapter

Chapter One

My hands gripped the steering wheel of my car tightly as a jumble of confusing thoughts raced through my head. It would take five hours to drive from Houston, the adopted city I love, to Southwest Airlines headquarters in Dallas. Normally I’d simply jump on a quick flight, but these were highly unusual times. It was September 12, 2001 and all flights in and out of American airports were grounded.

The day before, the unspeakable happened. Terrorists hijacked and flew American Airlines jets into the World Trade Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington DC, and a field in rural Pennsylvania. Later it was discovered the fourth plane was headed for the US Capitol building, but courageous passengers stormed the cockpit and took the hijackers down. Our nation was plunged into shock, horror and grief. As the destroyed and damaged buildings still smoldered from the heat of the fires, we didn’t know yet the loss of lives would add up to almost 3,000 people.

For me, September 11 was also a day of indescribable joy. Just a few hours before the attacks, my first granddaughter was born. As I held her in my arms at the hospital and gazed upon her perfect features I felt an immediate connection and an instinct to protect her at all costs. After news of the attacks hit the airwaves, I wondered about the world she would grow up in.

Yet, here I was, one day later racing away from her on the freeway; driving from my loved ones toward the work family I loved at Southwest Airlines. As the Director of Employment, I had to get to headquarters and fast.

When I finally arrived at the office, there was mass confusion everywhere.

Southwest employees, many of them my friends, were worried. Chaos ensued as the entire company scrambled to figure out what to do next. Our competitors already announced they were furloughing many employees.

Later that morning, Southwest sent a message to all employees informing us there would be no layoffs. The relief among all employees was palpable. We could get back to the immediate work of figuring out what to do. Incredibly, during that first week, another message came out to employees assuring us our profit-sharing checks, due to be distributed in less than three weeks on October first, would be funded, too.

When that message rang out, that’s when the employees of Southwest kicked into high gear. We wanted to give back to our incredible company. We wanted to do our share and help in any way possible. Employees started a movement to contribute part of our paychecks toward a fuel campaign to offset the cost of expensive jet fuel. We also started a temp pool. Any employee with time on their hands could volunteer their services in departments that were short staffed. While our competitors’ employees feared for their jobs, the warrior spirits at Southwest Airlines were all hands on deck, jumping in to help any way they could. That’s loyalty in action.

Books have been written, discussing the theory, processes and tactics for creating and sustaining a workplace where employees want to work.   I smile when I read what they have to say, because I got to LIVE it!

How do you create a sustainable Happy Workplace?  At its very essence, loyalty is about living up to The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s that simple. The best part is, loyalty is completely under your control in your business. Loyalty is the ultimate secret weapon that will:

  • Make you unstoppable as a business leader;
  • Mark your legacy in business history, and;
  • Create a powerful family of support - both team members and customers.

Loyal employees will be more courteous and resourceful with your customers. They’ll dig deeper when a project requires creativity; they’ll be more tolerant in frustrating situations and they’ll demonstrate persistence and determination when the going gets tough.

They’ll cheerfully go the extra mile, whether it means staying late to meet a deadline or sharing ideas to make your business better. In essence, loyal employees who know their company is loyal to them will take a bullet for you, figuratively speaking. Contrast this with employees who don’t feel they’re appreciated and are working for someone who doesn’t respect them… they’ll dodge that same bullet.

Losing employees is costly. These losses affect morale, productivity, customer service and teamwork. Companies who experience high turnover know this is true. According to the Center for American Progress, it costs businesses about one-fifth of a worker’s salary to replace that worker. If your business uses placement firms, that cost can skyrocket up to 40 percent of the new hires’ annual first year salary. That’s why successful companies always put time and effort into retention tactics to keep good people in the fold.

After  two decades of experience working exclusively in the field of how to build and retain loyalty in business, I find my work consistently revolves around four specific areas:

    • Hiring and Onboarding
    • Motivating
    • Leading
    • Creating Owners

As a Business Consultant to companies like Landry’s, State Farm, General Insulation, Methodist Hospital and others, it became frustrating when companies called me in to help them in only one area. My 15 years at Southwest Airlines, growing through the ranks to executive level, taught me these four areas absolutely must work in concert together. Otherwise there’s no synergy. Instead there’s a disconnect, which results in none of it working.

By reading this book and seeing the thoughtful and practical applications through the eyes of successful Houston-based companies, you’ll join the legions of enlightened leaders who truly “get it.”  There are no shortcuts to creating a true Happy Workplace. You can learn more about the work I do at www.LorraineGrubbs.com

The four areas I listed above, that I call The Four Navigational Beacons, are the cornerstone of building a culture of Happy employees. They are the basis upon which I developed my A Happy Workplace System. As you read, you’ll discover they include easy-to-follow, step-by-step methods that aren’t difficult, but they require diligence to implement. Any company, regardless of its size or industry, can use these principles to create what I call, “Warrior Spirits.”

As I mentioned, I was one of those “Warrior Spirits” for Southwest Airlines for 15 years. After retiring, I kept asking myself two questions:  “How did Southwest create a Happy Workplace?”  and  “What has this company done to make me so loyal?” That’s when I wrote my first book, Lessons in Loyalty – How Southwest Airlines Does it – an Insider’s View.  

Shortly after, I started getting calls from local and national company executives who read the book and wanted me to come in and help them create happier workplaces and more loyal cultures among their ranks. One thing was increasingly clear to me. The desire to inject a Happy Workplace culture into a company’s ranks had to start and be exhibited from the top. Without executives’ buy-in to the entire system, it’s almost impossible to create and sustain the desired culture.

In the first few chapters, I’ll share real-life examples from Houston, Texas-based companies, recognized for their inviting and rewarding cultures. One by one, I interviewed their CEOs. These companies are examples of enterprises that have used the same key strategies to propel their business to the top of their industry. Each of these companies has been recognized by their employees for being a great place to work. As a result each was recognized as one of the Top 150 Houston Companies to Work For by the Houston Chronicle, or is included in the Best Companies to Work For  by Fortune Magazine. Through careful application of the principles, these companies have discovered that business isn’t just about price and product; it’s also about people. They know when you treat your people well, your business will become a Happy Workplace.   Your people in turn will treat your customers well, and, as a result, you build loyal customers.

One of the best examples was demonstrated at Southwest Airlines just after 9-11.

As the employees scrambled to keep the company afloat during those turbulent days, something incredible happened. Many customers who bought airline tickets prior to that fateful day were afraid to fly and asked for a refund of their prepaid tickets. Our competitors accommodated them but a processing fee was deducted from their refund check. At Southwest, we felt that was unfair. After all, these customers weren’t asking for refunds as a result of something we had done. They were scared; impacted by something totally outside of everyone’s control.

We sent a message to all our customers letting them know if they wanted their money back, we’d refund the entire amount, no questions asked. If everyone who purchased a ticket on Southwest took us up on that offer, Southwest wouldn’t be in business today. We counted on the good relationships we built with our customers over the years, figuring they would trust the situation would calm down eventually. To our amazement, some customers went a big step further. We received many tickets back with notes attached saying, “I don’t want the money back… you keep it. I want Southwest around five years from today. This is my small way of helping you!” That’s the ultimate in customer loyalty.

When you treat your employees and customers right, you discover the secret to the utmost competitive advantage in any industry:  Put them both first.  There is no second place.

Gaining the Competitive Edge

Top executives are constantly seeking to find the competitive edge to move their business ahead especially during challenging times. Typically, C-level executives look to maximize their efforts in the traditional Four-P’s:  price, place, product and promotion. By finding the tiniest advantage, they can gain an edge over their competitors.

Savvy CEOs, however, have discovered a fifth P, people. They know time spent with people, can yield great returns in their business. What are you doing to attract and get the very best people?  What tools and processes are in place to get the most productivity from them because they “want to,” not because they “have to?”  It’s all in the secret formula to a Happy Workplace, and it may be the main ingredient you’re missing.

I attended a conference where the keynote speaker talked about the value of “Human Capital Asset.”  He spoke of the new wave of corporate competitive advantage – placing a high value on your employees in order to increase your bottom line.

I was working for Southwest at the time. We were considered the dark horse of the airline industry. We had overcome incredible odds to become the most successful airline in the country. Our achievements in customer service and profitability were legendary. During my time there, we won the coveted Triple Crown of Aviation:

  1. Fewest lost bags
  2. Most on-time departures
  3. Fewest customer complaints year after year

How did we do it?  By valuing people. Southwest was in on the secret formula long before many others.  They recognized the “one thing”: Put People First.

It’s that simple.

Many companies with a culture of trust and engagement understand it’s not about wishful thinking, but about rolling up your sleeves and working hard. They’ve seen the fruits of their labor as they enjoy lower overhead, excellent customer service and higher profitability.

How Will this Book Help?

Many books have been written about employee satisfaction and the impact it has on your bottom line. Some reveal complicated models. Others talk about hiring and motivation.

A Happy Workplace introduces, for the first time, a proven, comprehensive, step-by-step method that any company, regardless of industry or size, can follow to build a positive culture and all the benefits that spring from it.  From a simple-to-understand, common sense viewpoint, it introduces the Four Navigational Beacons to a Happy Workplace. These beacons, when followed, will get you where you need to be. The beacons are introduced in Chapter 10 following the business case studies.   It’s the all-in-one blueprint that you’ve been searching for.

Personal Note:  I live on a boat. When I take my boat out, I follow nautical beacons that keep me on course to my destination. So when it came time to create areas of culture change, I chose a nautical term – Navigational Beacons.   There are four and you’ll read about how they keep business leaders on course to create Happy Workplaces.

How is A Happy Workplace Groundbreaking?

Many companies struggle in our increasingly competitive global environment and realize people performance is a key differentiator. A Happy Workplace breaks new ground because it incorporates not just one aspect of creating a culture, but also deals with every aspect essential to the success of an atmosphere of loyalty. My experience has taught me that trying to troubleshoot just one area is like trying to find your way without a compass. It’s important to look at all four beacons. 

Introducing the Four Navigational Beacons

The First Beacon: Hiring and Onboarding Happy Employees.

It lays out innovative methods to help you identify the type of employee you’re looking for, and then teaches methods to attract the right applicants. It introduces interview questions to ensure the right fit, then lays out a plan to onboard new hires.

The Second Beacon: Motivating - Let Them Know You Care

It's about setting the right atmosphere for increasing employee satisfaction. This beacon includes techniques on simple, cost-effective recognition techniques, the importance of supporting employees during hard times, and how to build fun into the job. The adage, “Take your job seriously, but not yourself seriously” comes to mind. 

The Third Beacon is Leading : Building a Dedicated Following.

It lays out a plan to recognize, train, and promote “service leaders.” It covers the importance of trust, empowerment and the critical need to know your employees. It introduces the concept of a leader’s accountability to their employees’ satisfaction.

The Fourth Beacon: Creating Ownership - Employees Think of Your Company as Their Own.

It’s a roadmap to help employees feel like Owners of the business. You’ll discover how to create transparent communication, ensure employees know the value of their job, and make certain everyone is working towards that “One Thing.”

Imagine a company where employees come to work because they want to, not because they have to.  Even if your largest competitor attacks you full force and, even though its resources are vast and powerful, you successfully repel their efforts through the passion, spirit and dedication of your people. You receive the top customer service awards, the best financial returns and constant praise and admiration from your customer - all because of your employees. These loyal employees allow you to grow. They have your back. They want you to succeed because when you do, they will reap the rewards.

Nirvana?  No. As a matter of fact, it’s descriptive of the highly successful culture at Southwest. The employees are fiercely loyal, passionately protective and blindly faithful. In other words, they’ve created A Happy Workplace.  How did they do that?  That’s what I will share with you in the pages of the book.

After retiring from Southwest, I wrote Lessons in Loyalty that was translated into four languages, and launched my consulting career. Since that time I’ve worked as a Consultant, taking companies from high to low turnover rates. I’ve seen them go from an environment of mistrust to a fun environment where they successfully beat back the competition through the power of their people.

With this book, I hope to help you maximize what’s possible for your business using the A Happy Workplace beacons. I look forward to seeing you achieve the success enjoyed by my clients when they noticed their businesses change as their employees became warrior spirits.  As a result, they increased productivity, elevated levels of customer service and improved their bottom line.

* The purpose of this book is to reveal guidelines that will help you build a strong, resilient and happy culture, which will propel you and your business to the top of your industry.

                         Want to Learn More?

                               Go to Books and buy

                      'How to Create a Happy Workplace'