The cost of a culture of no consequences

Paul Slezak
Leading People

Madison is the epitome of a high performer.  

Consistently taking on additional responsibilities and going above and beyond. Constantly striving to take initiative and focusing on improving her own habits and workplace behaviours so everyone around her benefits from her actions. 

Unfortunately, Madison is also incredibly frustrated. 

When we caught up for our monthly coaching session last week, I could sense her frustration as soon as we sat down. 

My job as a coach is not only to help my clients unpack potential sources of frustration, but to also work on ways to navigate through these challenges. 

Madison was really struggling. 

“I continue to put in 110%”, she said. “But there are way too many people around here who are simply sub-par and nobody even bats an eyelid”. 

I smiled and reached for my phone. I wanted to lighten the mood before we got into the real nuts and bolts of the coaching session. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had texted me a meme which contained some classic nicknames for co-workers including ‘sensor light’ referring to someone who only works when the boss walks past, ‘wheelbarrow’ referring to someone who only works when pushed, and ‘KitKat’ referring to someone who is always having a break. 

“You’ll like these”, I said to Madison as I handed her my phone. 

Madison giggled. 

I knew we were good to start our deep dive. 

“There’s absolutely zero accountability around here. Poor performance or non-performance just gets swept under the carpet. If goals aren’t met, who cares? Just keep sweeping. Better yet, we’ll just pretend the target was never even set”. 

I let her vent. 

“I’m just sick of watching people coast along in this culture of no consequences”, she said. “I don’t want comfy. I don’t want cushy. I’m over cruisy. I want repercussions. I want to accountability”. 

I’d seen this level of sheer frustration in other high performers many times before. 

As a coach, I always try my best to promote accountability as a linchpin for success and growth for any team, since as was clearly the case for a high-performing team member like Madison, a culture devoid of consequences can be profoundly frustrating, impacting motivation, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. 

When a workplace lacks a culture of consequences, high performers often find themselves grappling with a sense of frustration stemming from unmet expectations.

The very essence of their dedication and hard work seems to be lost in a sea of mediocrity, where poor performance or underachievement go completely unchecked sending a disheartening message – that their dedication and contributions are simply not valued. Their frustration can further intensify as they witness colleagues facing no repercussions whatsoever for underperformance. 

In an environment where accountability is absent, high performers may become disengaged from their work and from the organisation as a whole. The erosion of trust is a natural by-product of this disengagement, as team members begin to question the fairness and equity of the workplace. 

The absence of consequences for poor or non-performance may lead to a belief that the organisation simply does not value excellence or prioritise accountability in any way.

As trust diminishes, collaboration suffers and the cohesiveness of the team weakens. A culture of no consequences can also inadvertently breed an environment of scepticism and self-preservation, hindering the collaborative spirit essential for overall organisational success. 

To prevent the development of a culture of no consequences, leaders must take proactive measures to instil a sense of accountability within the workplace.

The foundation of such a culture of accountability rests on clear expectations. We’ve written about the importance of leaders setting clear expectations previously, however while setting expectations is a crucial first step and provides the foundation for success, managing those expectations involves ongoing efforts to ensure consistency while at the same time enforcing consequences. 

Effective management along with what I like to refer to in my leadership coaching work as tough empathy contributes to a culture of accountability, fostering an environment where individuals are motivated to exceed expectations, knowing that there are fair and consistent repercussions for their actions if expectations aren’t met. 

I do a lot of work with leaders centred around building and developing high performing teams and one of the topics I cover off with them is the importance of establishing a consequence framework and why such a framework is essential for creating a culture of excellence and accountability.  

This structured system outlines both the positive and negative outcomes associated with meeting or failing to meet expectations. Positive consequences, such as recognition and rewards reinforce high performance, while negative consequences including disciplinary action for failure to deliver on certain goals and objectives ensures accountability. 

Holding individuals accountable for their performance and actions is a key aspect of any consequence framework. Ensuring that repercussions are fair and applied consistently across the team or organisation is also essential.

I also encourage leaders to foster a sense of collective accountability within their teams. After all, encouraging team members to support and hold each other to account helps to reinforce the idea that success is a shared responsibility. 

There is no doubt that a culture with no consequences poses significant challenges for high-performing team members like Madison, leading to frustration, demotivation, and a potential exodus of talent. Recognising the importance of accountability and taking proactive steps to prevent the emergence of such a culture is paramount for any leader. 

By setting clear expectations and implementing a consequence framework, leaders can cultivate a culture where accountability is not only valued, but deeply ingrained in the fabric of the organisation.

Remember, Hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, helping leaders ensure that their high performers feel recognised, motivated, and empowered to continue to contribute their best to the collective success of the team and the organisation as a whole.