Before You Bring In A Motivational Speaker…Consider Possible Harm.

A_EAR028In the past I’ve suggested that most motivational speakers cost good money and achieve nothing more than very temporary increases in “motivation” and morale. That’s a best case scenario. The poor ones don’t achieve anything at all. There’s another question though. Can motivational speakers cause harm to individuals and organizations?

The answer is a resounding YES. Let’s put aside the cost/benefit issues for now. Let’s look at the potential effects on employees and organizations. To do so we need to consider the issue of EXPECTATIONS.

One of the most common problems organizations have with respect to employees, is credibility. An organization where employees see the company and management as keeping their promises tends to be more successful. Simply put, there’s less cynicism, less complaining, and more loyalty to companies that don’t make promises they don’t keep. Companies and managers that promise new things and don’t deliver, get into big trouble. What happens is when a company promises that a “new” system will save 35% of time, employees want to believe it. On implementation, if it appears to employees that the “promise” was incorrect, how do they react? They blame management for making a bad decision (at least in their eyes), and are less likely to react with enthusiasm to the “next” promise.

What does this have to do with motivational speakers? First, most motivational speakers are brought in by management. They are presented to employees as valued gurus, with something to say. Expectations are intentionally created regarding the value that the speaker will provide. Then, the speaker drops in for an hour or two, does the motivational thing, and a big chunk of the audience is disappointed. Perhaps it’s that many people don’t like feeling they are being “manipulated into motivation”. Or just as common, apart from the theater and pizzazz of the motivational speaker, there is often no content, and little practicality to what is presented.

So we end up with the classic cycle of expectations and disappointment. Raise expectations with the pre-speaker hype. The speaker disappoints many in the audience, and then leaves the scene. However the managers and executives who brought in the speaker are the ones that look stupid. They have just lost more credibility in the eyes of their staff.

Motivational speakers can cause harm in another way. Individuals who may be susceptible to motivational ideas and theater, can go away “halfcocked”…the a little knowledge is a dangerous thing syndrome.

Here’s a real example. Jane was a receptionist, somewhat quiet, but what we would call a bit passive-aggressive. Management, with good intentions, arranged to have Jane attend a high profile motivational session on assertiveness and taking control of one’s life. Lo, and behold…it TAKES…she GETS it (or does she). She returned to work all hyped up, all “assertive” but her understanding of being assertive (based on the few hours with the motivational speaker) was twisted. She actually ended up more aggressive, impossible to work with, and no amount of coaching from her manager helped, once she “got the spirit” from the motivational speaker. In the case of Jane, she eventually was fired. Certainly Jane was harmed personally.

There are indeed situations where motivational speakers can cause harm to companies, management, and even individual employees. When you consider bringing in a motivational speaker ask yourself these two questions:

1) What will happen if we make promises we can’t deliver?

2) Is it possible some individuals will get the “wrong end of the stick” and take it TOO seriously?

For more on HR and organizational topics, drop in to Robert Bacal’s articles pages

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4 Responses to Before You Bring In A Motivational Speaker…Consider Possible Harm.

  1. Joseph John January 28, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

    well, companies still spend lot of money on such motivational speakers. Maybe they want to bring in some external distractions to counter the internal distortions in management!

  2. Clyde Howell January 29, 2014 at 6:55 am #

    This blog entry reminds me of a time that I was tasked with writing a OSHA Hazard Communication Plan for a manufacturing organization. I toured their facilities to get a feel for the hazards we would be addressing and to see what their best practices were that could be included in the final plan. I got to the main facility and found the MSDS docs bound and located in the central plant office. When I asked how the employees got access to the office I was told that employees were not allowed in there. I pointed out that the law requires that employees have free access to MSDS docs to see what hazards were present and how to deal with them. The plant management got upset and pointed out that, if the employees knew the hazards they were exposed to, they would sue the company. Then they would have to be fired.

    Following the logic of this post all efforts to educate the employee population, improve the workplace, and comply with the law should have been abandoned because the results would have harmed the employees. Sorry this blog just lost all credibility within.

  3. Sergio Garcia January 29, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    In my opinion, every hea is a full world of different ideas, and the circumbstances can change our points of view.
    In my experience as a motivational speajer there are at least 2 things to do beore a conference
    Speak with the person who ask you for the conference to have a clear view of the objective of the conference
    And to have an incognito visit to the conference hall at least 1 hour before to see the mood of people

  4. Sergio Garcia January 29, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    Sorry I dint check my writing —In my opinion, every head is a full world of different ideas, and the circumstances can change our points of view.
    In my experience as a motivational speaker there are at least 2 things to do before a conference
    Speak with the person who ask you for the conference to have a clear view of the objective of the conference
    And to have an incognito visit to the conference hall at least 1 hour before to see the mood of people