When I worked in sales for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, there was a weekly staff meeting to discuss team news and department updates. While I always looked forward to the interactive element of these gatherings, there was one component of these discussions that used to drive me and many of my colleagues crazy.

Periodically, our director would use these meetings as a forum to berate the entire sales staff for poor performance. While our boss was really only talking to a few individuals, he would make comments like the following to the whole department:

You could be out there selling life insurance or printers, but you have the privilege of working for an NBA team. If you don’t want to be here, we could easily find someone else who would kill to have your job.

While this statement was 100% true, it was a disastrous way to address an entire department, and it was also totally ineffective for two main reasons. First of all, this strategy usually impacted the wrong people. The low performers on the sales staff would usually not even be paying attention. If they were, they probably didn’t care or realize the boss was talking to them in particular.

On the other hand, the people who were usually most impacted by this morale-killing message were the high performers. They (myself included) would be annoyed that the boss was wasting their time with irrelevant threats. In addition, some of the high performers would be fearful that their jobs were somehow at risk. After one of these meetings, one of the people I managed at the time (who was also one of the hardest-working people in the entire company) came in to my office and actually started to cry. He was afraid that he was about to get fired!

The other reason why this “motivational” approach is ineffective is that you will never motivate your employees over the long-term through guilt or fear. “Scare tactics” may work in the short-term, but is that really the type of work environment you want to cultivate?

If you want to motivate your employees over the long-term, never address individual performance in a group setting, and do not use fear or guilt as a tactic.


Pete Leibman is the Author of “I Got My Dream Job and So Can You” (published by The American Management Association). His work has been featured on Fox, CBS, and CNN, and he has been invited to speak at some of the world’s best colleges including Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University.