When WestJetters gather for their twice-yearly profit-sharing celebration, the mood in the room is electric, as everyone waits to learn the final amount to be shared.
“The whole point of the profit-share event is to look the WestJetters in the eye, give them a hug and a handshake, and hand them their cheque to say thank you,” says Tyson Matheson, WestJet’s vice president of inflight, learning and development. To ensure no one is left out of the festivities, Matheson’s team sees to it that flight crews in the air during the party are met at the gate to receive their thank-you and cheque.
Issuing profit-share cheques via direct deposit would be infinitely cheaper for the 8,700-strong airline, but the ritual is part of WestJet’s history, and a building block of its company culture. “Our corporate culture isn’t up to the leadership team, it’s up to every individual who joins WestJet. We choose the culture that we have, because of how we treat one another,” says Matheson.
Company culture is often elusive. It’s the sum of the values, beliefs and traditions embraced by leaders and employees. Matheson explains that, for WestJet, culture is most easily defined in the internal motto, “We succeed because I care.” The philosophy behind it is that if a company takes care of its employees, the employees will take care of their guests, and guest satisfaction will, in turn, take care of the bottom line.
WestJet’s culture was built into the company’s founding principles, and grew with the company over the last 17 years to become inaugurated in Waterstone Human Capital’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Hall of Fame. To help you maintain your company’s culture as your organization grows, Matheson shared these four tips:
Collect and share company stories. “We tell stories to reinforce the behaviors that we want to see, and it’s particularly powerful for new hires. When they hear a story about how a WestJetter went above and beyond for a guest or co-worker, it reinforces our company values,” says Matheson.
Support your employees’ values. WestJetters believe in the impact that corporate social responsibility (CSR) has on the communities they live in. To show its support for them, the airline offers programs like WestJetters Caring For Our Community, which gives WestJetters the opportunity to donate the gift of flight to the community organization for which they volunteer.
Hire (and fire) for cultural fit. WestJet’s evaluation process doesn’t end the day an interviewee becomes a WestJetter. “There have been folks who’ve been very strong on delivering results, but haven’t fit the WestJet mould around how we treat people and each other, so we’ve had to let them go. They’re skilled people, but they just don’t match with our culture,” he says.
Reflect your culture through language: “It’s really our people who give us our competitive advantage,” says Matheson. WestJet’s corporate culture is reflected in the language used to describe team members. No matter their role, internal and external communications refer to all company employees as WestJetters or owners.