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Per Daft, the major elements of strategic planning are developing the plan, translating the plan, planning operations, executing the plan, and monitoring and learning (Daft, 2013). Daft considers the pre-execution, AGILE adjustment while executing, and review process in his strategic planning cycle. Others like Overgaag break the strategic plan process down in a waterfall approach of vision, mission, objectives, strategy, approach, and tactics. Overgaag recognizes and covers the planning’s dynamic elements in execution and review but in separate stages of the Spur Group’s ‘business operations framework’ process as informing the business intelligence steps (Overgaag, 2020).  The author understands that strategic planning is often thought of as a ‘pre-execution process, but if a leader only plans that way they will last in today’s world. As Daft and Overgaag note and Southwest Airlines illustrate, strategic planning is an iterative process that constantly reacts/proacts to market shifts. Southwest’s initial plan development was very purpose-driven. Southwest’s purpose is to “connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel” and their vision is “to be the world’s most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline” (Southwest Airlines Careers, 2021)

Southwest started with high-efficiency strategies to effect very low fare travel between business points. It was designed to compete with car travel inconvenience, price, and locations. Besides this, they focused on service, not with expensive dining, etc., but with personal, fun, and memorable engagements that staff provided. Southwest describes this customer experience as “the airline that made it fun to fly, young, friendly, refreshing, and exciting” (Heskett, 2013). As the plan developed out of its vision, mission, and goals a primary part of Southwest’s strategy became to translate the plan into objectives and by the rate of growth, profitability, employee retention, ability to negotiate well with unions, and other metrics, Southwest had done well translating its vision, mission, and objectives into a strategy that worked and tactics that staff could engage and execute well. As the plan was executed, additional feedback from monitoring and learning revised planning and the iterative stages. This was reflected in a response to increased competition and the rise of fuel. The purchase of fuel hedges enabled more predictable cost management. In addition, Southwest altered their long-time avoidance of code-sharing with other airlines in order to take advantage of other markets. They did this carefully and only when they could preserve their culture. The overall strategy and vision part of developing the plan stayed the same, however, they continued to translate the plan effectively with different tactics as needed by market changes. As competition challenged, Southwest’s boarding tactics changed and they executed differently. They still stayed ahead of the competition. Effective monitoring and learning seem to be a primary way that they have stayed ahead of the competition through company-breaking challenges like 911 and the pandemic.

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The case study evidence suggests that Southwest has successfully implemented strategic planning, then subsequently generally been successful fulfilling their purpose and vision across iterative changes. They have done this well enough to move from an upstart outlier to a market transformer. If imitation is really the highest form of flattery, they are the best out there.

Reference 

Daft, R. L. (2013). Management (11th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning. ISBN-13: 9781285068657

Heskett, J.L. & Sasser, W. E. Jr., (2013). Southwest Airlines: In a Different World. Boston, Ma.: Harvard Business School. HBS No.:910-419.  

Overgaag, D. (2020). 6 Elements of Effective Strategic Planning. thespurgroup.com. https://www.thespurgroup.com/blog/the-6-elements-of-effective-strategic-planning

Southwest Airlines Careers – Culture. (2021). Southwest.com. https://www.southwest.com/html/about-southwest/careers/culture.html

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