Have you ever found yourself trying to deflect accountability? If you’re honest with yourself, you will likely answer, “Yes, I have.” And the fact is, it never feels good. The first time you slink around accountability, your conscience seems to shout back at you, “Not good!”
And yet the more you shrink from it, the easier it becomes. The voice inside gets softer and softer until you fool yourself into thinking that not being accountable is okay—or, worse yet, that you’re doing all that could be expected of you. The result is that you replace the exhilarating sensation of accountability with the uninspiring sense of apathy. As a business owner and leader, you must not allow yourself to be fooled. You must learn how to be accountable yourself and how to hold your employees, partners, and vendors accountable.
One of my favorite, real-life examples of taking personal accountability comes out of the aviation industry. This story depicts one CEO who stayed in, took the curve ball on the nose, and exemplified accountability to self, company, stockholders, and customers.
In February of 1999 David Neeleman founded JetBlue Airways with the intent “to bring humanity back to air travel.” Further elaborating on its commitment to customer service, Neeleman later said,
It’s a new kind of low-fare airline. JetBlue will offer wider seats, more legroom, and more overhead storage space than any other airline in its class and, with 24 channels of live in-flight television, you’ll never have to miss your favorite show on the road. What’s more, our aircraft are some of the world’s quietest, most emission-friendly passenger jets.
In an ad specific to the citizens of New York City, he committed to the following:
We want to be New York’s new low-fare, hometown airline. JetBlue will bring to the city a superior product…
What happened on and around February 14, 2007, was anything but a sweetheart customer service story. Here are a few less-than-stellar low points, as reported by a variety of news agencies:
- Over 500 JetBlue passengers were stranded on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport for six-plus hours.
- During the ensuing six-day meltdown, over 1,000 JetBlue flights were canceled.
- By that Sunday, hundreds of bags belonging to JetBlue customers who had checked into flights that were eventually canceled were stacked outside JetBlue’s Baggage Services office.
- Hundreds of JetBlue flights were delayed. Passengers were frustrated and shocked by the extent of the delays
Bringing humanity back to the air travel? The business impact was, to say the least, expensive. The company’s stock fell five percent. During ensuing interviews, Neeleman acknowledged weaknesses in the company’s communications and flight reservation system and vowed to invest the millions of dollars necessary to bring the airline up to speed.
Put yourself in Neeleman’s shoes. What would you have done as the CEO in this situation? Do you send the public relations folks in to handle the mess? Does the VP of customer service get called upon to shield you from the wrath of the irate customers? Do you ignore the fiasco and hope it goes away? Do you point fingers at operations and lop off a few heads along the way?
Here’s what David Neeleman did;
Dear JetBlue Customers,
We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.
Last week was the worst operational week in JetBlue’s seven-year history. Many of you were either stranded, delayed or had flights canceled following the severe winter ice storm in the Northeast. The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly, disrupted the movement of JetBlue’s pilot and in-flight crewmembers who were depending on those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. With the busy President’s Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and hold times at 1-800-JETBLUE were unusually long or not even available, further hindering our recovery efforts.
Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you, your family, friends and colleagues experienced. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel, and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.
We are committed to you, our valued customers, and are taking immediate corrective steps to regain your confidence in us. We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place to provide better and more timely information to you, more tools and resources for our crewmembers and improved procedures for handling operational difficulties. Most importantly, we have published the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights—our official commitment to you of how we will handle operational interruptions going forward—including details of compensation. We invite you to learn more at jetblue.com/promise.
You deserved better – a lot better – from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to once again welcome you onboard and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.
Founder and CEO
And, to top it off, Neeleman followed up his heartfelt apology with pocket-felt actions. He announced what he estimated would cost between twenty and thirty million dollars to revamp procedures for handling interruptions in service. Before the month was out JetBlue Airways voluntarily offered forty million dollars in refunds and vouchers to impacted passengers and gave wings to JetBlue’s “Customer Bill of Rights.”
We’re going to offer something that no other airline will offer customers… We’re going to be held accountable with laser beam focus… we want to do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Now that is accountability. No hiding, no transparency, not waffling, no pointing fingers—just plain old refreshing, effective, personal accountability. Thank you, David Neeleman!
Porter’s Points – You Are Accountable
- The first time you shoulder accountability, it may seem difficult. But the more you accept it, the easier it becomes to accept.
- Stay in and, if necessary, take the curve ball on the nose.
- Be accountable—and then some. Exceed what those you are accountable to expect from you.