Is accountability a modern problem?

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A lack of accountability can quickly bring any workplace down but while some point to young people as the main culprits, one leadership expert says it’s an issue that’s by no means new.

“It’s always been a problem because of human nature,” says Lee Ellis, founder and president of Leadership Freedom. “Human nature wants the easy way out, our brains are wired that way.”

While Ellis insists a lack of accountability has always been a problem in workplaces, he suggests the issue could be getting worse as a result of changing attitudes.

“The problem has always been there but I do think it’s grown more serious now because of the culture,” he told HRM.

“We believe strongly in tolerance – and I believe in tolerance too – but I think we’ve taken that to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to confront people for performance, they feel like you’re being unfair,” he explained.

Ellis – who recently penned ‘Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability’ – says today’s organizations are sometimes guilty of focussing on rewards and neglecting reprimands.

“The reality is, human beings need both the carrot and the stick,” he stressed. “We need to have consequences when we don’t perform, keep our promises, or keep our commitments.”

Without consequences, Ellis says a lack of accountability will quickly spread around the workplace.

“If people are not taking responsibility, if they’re not being trained to take responsibility and they don’t have accountability then you don’t have reliability or trust,” he told HRM.

“If leaders let people off the hook, some will be offended and others will think they deserve to get away with poor performance so they’ll perform in a more unaccountable way in the future,” he continued.

“Not only that, but the good people who are accountable will look around and say; ‘Well, what kind of organization is this – whether you work hard or you don’t work hard you get the same benefits.’ That’s not inspiring at all.”

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