Who’s Accountable?


Recently we once again saw a problem with United Airlines.

While the problem has been widely covered on social media, a few of the details have been glossed over.

One is that when the customer complained to a flight attendant about what was clearly an error by the airline, reportedly, she “just shrugged and walked away after commenting that the plane was full”.

The other, and perhaps more important issue, is that the customer was intimidated against standing up for her rights by the coverage of a Doctor being pulled off of a United flight by law enforcement in the past.


Customer Service Not A Priority …

United’s CEO has apologized and has refunded the ticket cost and provided other compensation.   But it appears that management has not yet succeeded in making customer service a high priority among United employees.

And why should they?

United’s CEO earned $18.7 million in compensation last year, including stock awards, according to United’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Just under $1.2 million of it was salary, with most of the rest coming from incentives, and a bonus tied to his 2015 hiring.


Metrics Changed In 2017 …

For 2016, the board determined United hit its marks in on-time arrival performance and pre-tax income.  The CEO also reached long-term goals related to the airline’s return on invested capital and its pre-tax margin.

Management’s targets will change in 2017, with the board recently announcing executive compensation will be more closely tied to United’s customer service metrics.

Flight Attendants in the United States can expect to earn an average of $39K per year.  Overall cash earnings for Flight Attendants stretch from $23K on the lower end to $81K near the top, and the heftiest packages can encompass around $5K from bonuses and $9K from profit sharing.


CEO Pay Tied To What?

Given that the CEO of United was the highest paid of all airline CEO’s in 2016 and none of that pay was related to customers, is it any wonder that the flight attendant “shrugged and walked away”?

In addition to United Airlines, coverage by social media has flagged significant issues with accountability in many large companies. Last week an article on social media discussed a woman who made plans for a vacation and booked a hotel for her family with Expedia.

On arriving at the hotel, they informed her that the hotel was “overbooked” and they could not provide the rooms.  When she spoke with Expedia, she was informed that Expedia would not provide a refund as their terms state that they are not responsible for things “out of their control” such as overbooking.



It’s No Ones Fault …

In this case, neither the hotel nor Expedia was willing to either accept responsibility or accountability for ruining this family’s vacation.

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review: “Accountability is not simply taking the blame when something goes wrong.  It’s not a confession. 

Accountability is about delivering on a commitment.  It’s a responsibility for an outcome, not just a set of tasks, it’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.”

And it’s necessary at all levels of the hierarchy. Executives at the top can’t really be accountable unless the people who report to them and the people who report to those people also follow through on their commitments.


5 Steps To Drive Change …

So, what are some ways to make this work?

1. Clear Expectations – The first thing is to be crystal clear about expectations. This means being clear about the outcome you expect, how you’ll measure success and how people can go about achieving the objective.

2. Clear capability – What skills are needed to meet the expectation? What resources are needed? Are the resources available or can they be acquired?

3. Clear Measurement – Nothing frustrates management more than being surprised by failure. Sometimes it’s a failure to ask for help; sometimes it’s premature optimism on all sides. But it is completely avoidable by having clear measurements and milestones.

4. Clear Feedback – Honest, open, ongoing feedback is critical. People should know where they stand. If you have clear expectations, capability and measurement, feedback can be fact-based and easy to deliver.

5. Clear Consequences – This is where the system normally breaks down. There are really only three consequences; repeat, reward or release. If there is a lack of clarity in the system, adjust and repeat the process. If people are succeeding, find a clear and visible way to reward them. If some of the organization cannot or will not accept accountability then they are not a good fit for the role they are in and need to be released from that role.



The Right Mindset …

Lastly, it is important to note that what determines the ability to succeed at taking accountability is individual mindset. 

Mindset is the trigger for choices, actions and results.  Not dealing with individual mindset means missing the root cause of lack of performance.

Accountability is not something an executive or manager explains. It is taking accountability for your individual mindset first, before you get into problem solving.



Revitalization Partners is a Northwest business advisory and restructuring management firm with a demonstrated track record of achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients. And now, we’ve written a book to help our readers understand the issues facing their businesses. You can find this compilation of our business thoughts at:
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