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Former Southwest Airlines CEO Provides Key Takeaways for the Homecare Community at NAHC’s Annual Meeting

Posted on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 4:06 PM

James Parker discussed how the homecare community must follow the Golden Rule – to treat others as you want to be treated yourself and always do the right thing – especially when caring for their patients and employees. Parker is an author, a teacher and has served at several prestigious institutions.

The home care and hospice community have been struggling with the implementation of Pre-Claim Review. While very few people know how to steer their company in the right direction during tough times, James Parker can definitely relate. Parker took over as head of Southwest Airlines three months before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Parker had to make very difficult decisions that day and the following days to determine the culture for Southwest Airlines.

“We didn’t have long to grieve because we had to start making business decisions,” Parker told the NAHC audience. Parker further explained that he offered a full refund to anyone who was afraid to fly, which none of the competitors were willing to do.

Southwest has always been known for doing right by their customers and employees. “Nobody at Southwest Airlines lost their job or a paycheck because of 9/11,” said Parker. “We decided quickly it was not the right thing to do for our company.”

Parker describes his lessons in life and business in his book “Do the Right Thing: How Dedicated Employees Create Loyal Customers and Large Profits.” Parker’s life has been guided by the Golden Rule. “If in doubt, just use the sense God gave a goose and do the right thing,” said Parker.

“We didn’t expect to make money in the fourth quarter of 2001,” Parker recalled, but that’s exactly what happened. Parker watched his competitors downsize and declare bankruptcy, but he was determined to treat his employees like teammates. Parker’s style paid off for Southwest Airlines. The company went on to make another profit in the first quarter of 2002.

What observers found at the company was “relational coordination” – which Parker calls “a fancy academic word for teamwork.” Southwest’s employees “believe in the mission of the company,” said Parker, and that mission is “a company in the business of serving people, just as you (in the home care industry) are.”

“Our secret ingredient for success was our dedicated employees,” stated Parker.

“People respond to the culture they are in,” said Parker. At Southwest Airlines “we used to go to great lengths to hire the right people,” pointing out that “statistically it was harder to get hired at Southwest Airlines than it was to get into Harvard. What we used to say is we actually hire for attitude and train for skill.”

“I don’t think you can make people do the right thing,” Parker told the NAHC annual meeting. “But what you can do is make people want to do the right thing.”
Parker closed his speech by thanking the audience for their work by saying “the very embodiment of something I personally believe very deeply. That is, that America is a great and generous nation because it is filled with great and generous people.”

In a conversation with Parker after the speech, NAHC President Val Halamandaris said “I fly almost exclusively Southwest Airlines and the reason is the culture. You’ve got caring people.” Nodding in agreement, Parker said that a caring culture “is absolutely the key to our success” at Southwest, explaining that doing the right thing is not only a guide to interpersonal relationships, but also the most effective management principle.

The Golden Rule is a good rule “for living your life and for building a business,” said Parker.

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