Ginger Hardage’s Successful Principles at ‘REACH’: People, Purpose, and Culture

Keynote speaker Ginger Hardage

Keynote speaker Ginger Hardage shared with REACH 2018 conference attendees the virtues, passion and vision of being a part of Southwest Airlines during the airline company’s famously-recounted rise to success during the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ morning general session on Friday in Hollywood, CA.

Hardage was formerly senior vice president of culture and communications for Southwest, spent 25 years with the airline, was a member of the CEO’s executive leadership team, and is an expert on creating and sustaining organizations of “enduring greatness.” She was responsible for the activities that nourished the culture and internal-external communications function. She described what it was like to help champion the values that have made Southwest a culture of enduring greatness—values that credit union leaders are familiar with.

The history of Southwest started with an idea drawn on a cocktail napkin. Only wealthy individuals tended to fly airlines in the late 1960s. The founders wanted to connect Dallas, Houston and San Antonio—a simple business model. It was a fledging airline in a world of big industry players, and cash was tight. “They did what they had to do to get off the ground.” Hardage said. “It was challenging, but today we serve 120 million passengers a year and employ 60,000 people.”

She discussed Southwest founders’ philosophy of “servant leadership”—what you do always trumps what you say. In addition, Hardage offered three valuable ideas helping catapult the company into success: putting people first, infusing purpose into the company culture, and making culture stick.

“Putting people first is when employees act like owners because they have a vested interest in the success of your credit union,” she said. “Our cultures start with hiring. Spend the time on hiring the front-end so you can manage easy on the back-end. Make sure the right people come into your organization.” Southwest receives 370,000 hiring applications per year and hires on average about 6,000—about 2 percent of all applications.

Second: “Infuse purpose into every corner of your organization,” she said. “Why do we exist? Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable and rewarding service. We knew our competitors could be two of these all the time, but not all three. Make sure your organization differentiates itself. The best-in-class organizations describe how their behaviors align with their values and how they can live them every day.”

Finally, making culture “sticks” means putting into place the right environment, atmosphere and employee structures and groups. “How are you weaving those values throughout your journey to make culture stick within your organization?” she said. “We should be positioning senior leaders as true employee champions.”

Want a "recap" of REACH 2018? Visit the "REACH Onsite Live" news page! Also check out the REACH Social Wall—a round-up of social media posts. Or see Twitter (@CUatREACH). This year’s REACH 2018 conference—hosted by the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues from Nov. 6 – 9—was held at the Loews Hotel near Hollywood & Highland (in Hollywood, CA), a world-class entertainment destination. The annual REACH conference is a premier event drawing 700 – 800 credit union leaders and system partners from across the United States.

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