Accountability Means Keeping Your Commitments to People

Many leaders get confused about accountability… for the simple reason that they do not yet have a clear understanding of what the word actually means. Accountability, very simply, means keeping your commitments to people. Period. You are responsible for things. You are accountable to people. Big difference!

Let’s do a little experiment that demonstrates the extraordinary impact of this powerful principle, accountability means keeping your commitments to people. I am going to name five airlines. You tell me which one you would want to be on if you had to take a trip, and if you could choose any one of the five:

  • Lufthansa
  • Emirates
  • Air Canada
  • United
  • EasyJet

Have you got your answer?

I have been asking the groups I work with this question for years, all over the world, and there is a fascinating trend that has emerged. Time after time, group after group, company after company, no matter what country I am in, the overwhelming answer I get is always “Emirates.” Even people who have never flown Emirates will pick Emirates! So why is that?

Here is my answer. The reason people pick Emirates so often is that they have either flown Emirates themselves and had a great experience with the airline…or they have talked to someone who has flown Emirates and had a great experience. In other words, it is all rooted in the experience people had, and then told others about, when they were flying that airline.

So. What makes that positive experience possible? Well, sometimes people tell me, “Oh, it’s because the people at Emirates are better.” I would put that a little differently. The people who work for any company are what they are…but the people who work at Emirates perform the way they do because they operate within an accountable culture that exists at that airline.

Let’s pause and look closely for a moment at that word culture. Culture is what is accepted and what is repeated within an organization. Every organization has a culture; I have never seen one that did not. There are two types of organizational cultures: culture by design and culture by default.

A culture by design is one where leadership has made sure that certain things happen. This culture is defined and modeled. It is taught. It is protected. It is celebrated. In a culture by default, none of that is going on. Anything goes! If you are an employee at a company with a culture by default, you show up when you show up. You do what you feel like doing. Your level of performance does not necessarily have to meet a certain standard. Your attitude toward coworkers and customers, and toward work in general, does not necessarily have to show up at a certain level, either.

So: What makes the customer experience positive? A culture by design. And what makes that culture by design an accountable culture? Keeping commitments to people. One of the most critical of those commitments is the commitment to live the values. That has to start at the top. You may be interested to learn, that, among the values leaders at Emirates identify, express, and live each and every day, we find the following:

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION – Anticipating the exact needs of customers, thoroughly evaluating them, meeting them and operating as a customer-focused company at all times is a part of Emirates’ goals and company culture.

EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT – Emirates considers emotional ties and bonds as the key factors of being the #1 consumers’ choice.

RELIABILITY – On-time performance, minimum of lost luggage, on-time bags delivery, the newest airline fleets in the world, and absence of accidents/crashes are core features in providing the most safe flights to customers with 100% guarantee of reliability.

HIGH QUALITY OF SERVICE AND PRODUCT – The company considers this value as an essential part of its leadership in aviation, providing customers with the highest comfort on-board.

PROFESSIONALISM AND TEAMWORK – Employees are one of the most valuable assets of the airline. The company tries to attract the employees of the highest caliber as well as to invest in their professionalism. Each member of staff’s commitment towards ongoing improvement combines to maintain the competitive edge of our operation in global markets.

Most companies have a great set of values, but only great companies are committed to actually living those values at a non-negotiable level. It is easy to write a great set of values; it is another thing to live those values. You can tell what kind of values the leadership of a company is committed to by the quality of the experience the company’s employees deliver to customers. And at Emirates, keeping that commitment to live the values has obviously been a huge part of a culture that motivates their people to be their best — and deliver a great customer experience. It is not just that leaders at this airline hire qualified people, although that is a part of what is happening. The point is that the culture inspires people to be their best, by keeping the commitment to live the values from the top down.

It all comes down to an accountable culture. That is what makes that positive customer experience possible. And it is also what makes people who have never flown on Emirates, but who have heard great things about the airline, want to fly Emirates! The culture at that organization is so strong that their reputation precedes them — globally!

What are your company’s values? How do they connect to the customer experience? And, most important of all, how committed are you as a leader to the non-negotiable proposition that you, and everyone in your organization, will live those values, each and every day?


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