How to Avoid Using Poor Motivational Posters

How to Avoid Using Poor Motivational Posters

It has become fashionable to place motivational posters on the walls in the companies. Depending on the nature of the organisation, this can be seen in two ways; a propaganda campaign by the management to make the workers work harder or an attempt to remind the workers of certain values held by the organisation.

With the first view the posters may look nice but usually do little to lift moral, educate or motivate. Various formats are used but usually those that have a generic picture with some bland slogan are the ones that are despised the most. They usually have a dark background, a central picture and a slogan at the bottom. Most often these slogans are single words, such as “Prosperity”, “Motivation”, “Ambition” or “Stability”. Perhaps, the idea is that by seeing “Motivation” (and some random picture) on the wall every day, people become more motivated!

Well, you need to make a bit more of an effort than that to motivate people.

Posters which are used in the workplace to remind us of the organisation’s values are often not very effective. They might be noticed the first time seen on the wall but it is then filtered out the same way we filter out those motivational posters or intrusive advertisements.

Both of these views seem to be problematic although the general ideal of being repeatedly reminded of something is a good one. In fact, productivity gurus have been recommending using this technique for years and if implemented well they can have great effects.


What is Self-Imposed Advertisement?

The idea is that you can use self-imposed advertisement to influence your own behaviour. Many historic figures seem to have become obsessed with self-advertisement and have systematically used it to their success.

For example, Margaret Thatcher used to carry the following quote from Abraham Lincoln with her everywhere she went:

“You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.

You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer.”

Indeed, it beautifully captures her ideology and gives us a clue on how she managed to have a clear idea of what she believed in throughout her career to make consistent decisions.

From numerous studies on psychology of marketing, we are also aware of the incredible power of advertisement and repetition of messages and how they can, even unconsciously, influence our behaviour.

Hence, the idea of placing slogans on the walls of a corporation to reinforce a common identity and to educate and remind people of core company values is a sound one. The problem however is that if not done well employees may feel like they work in the world of Orwell’s 1984.


What Can You Learn From Advertisers?

To avoid ending up with a dystopia while still taking advantage of the power of self-advertisement, we can focus on the two words that make the term; self and advertisement.

Advertisers have been busy for years in perfecting their craft and have learned a thing or two in the process. For example, fundamentals of advertisement tell us that all advertisements must be targeted. It needs to be designed for a very specific set of “customers”. The more generic the ad, the less effective it is. This is why people should be exposed to generic ads for a long time before it can have any effect.

Targeted advertisement, however, works much more effectively for self-advertisement. You know who you are and what you like. Employees know themselves much better than their customers. When the audience is well-understood, a targeted advertisement works best.

Seasoned advertisers know that showing the same message over and over again beyond a certain point will reduce its effectiveness. Psychologists have long discovered that the human brain is great at filtering out information in order to focus on what matters most, which is usually new changes in an environment. When a poster is placed on a wall it is immediately noticed; hence the great power of an initial advertisement. For a while, people notice it every day; hence, the great power of repetition.

Give it a month however and people might pass it and don’t even “see” it. Their brains treat it much like a plant or furniture in the environment. Their interests have shifted to something else.

Hence, it is important to change the message, keep it exciting and engaging so it does not fade away.


What Can You Do About Self?

Since employees may view management-sponsored advertisements as a form of influence, it is important to consider the other part of self-advertisement too; the self.

The solution is simple; employees should be involved in the process of setting up the advertisement. If they are involved in the design and selection of these messages, not only they are more likely to accept them but also they are more likely to notice them more often in the future. After all, they fully understand and accept the philosophy behind the messages and are believers.

Seeing their own messages in the form of posters or other materials will then act as a self-reminder rather than an external message bombarded on them by ulterior motives.


How to Make Posters?

At this point you may wonder how to go about the process of creating meaningful self-advertisements. There are many solutions so long as you involve the employees in the process. Here is one that works well:

  • Gather targeted employees in a room. If you have a large company, you may need to run this exercise separately for each department. The meeting should include everyone, mangers or subordinates alike.
  • Present the philosophy of the company and get the employees to discuss it.
  • Present a number of prepared quotes. For example, you might select a number of famous quotes on customer services and present these to the group. Here are some examples:

“You cannot improve one thing by 1000% but you can improve 1000 little things by 1%.”

Jan Carlzon


“Customers may forget what you said but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”



“If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.”

Stephen Covey


“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Bill Gates

  • Now ask the participants to find similar quotes or simply share what they consider as great quotes from their own experience. You can let them research these quotes there and then or assign this as a task and continue with the meeting on another day.
  • Collect the participants’ quotes and distribute a copy of the entire set to everyone.
  • Get all participants to vote for their favourite quotes so you can rank each quote based on popularity. The overall aim is to select the best quotes and leave the rest.
  • Once the best quotes are selected, compile them into a list and distribute a copy of this list to everyone.
  • Now explain that they will all be entering a photographic competition. They have one week to take photographs of anything related to the quotes in the list and bring these to the next meeting. There is no limit on the number of entries and all suggestions will be considered.
  • In the next meeting, get participants to share their photos and then get everyone to vote for the best pictures for each quote. You must end up with one winning picture for each quote in the list.
  • Pass the list of quotes and the winning pictures to your graphics design department and ask them to convert each quote and its corresponding images into a visually attractive poster. Quality and aesthetics are important, so don’t cut any corners at this stage.
  • Place the posters on the walls in the environment of the participants.
  • If you are running this separately for each department, get each department to select one poster as their ambassador for other departments. Place each ambassador poster in other departments’ areas leading to more exchange of ideas and interaction.
  • Repeat this activity periodically, perhaps every quarter. This is critical. As you saw earlier, it is important to change the environment so that the posters don’t end up becoming part of the background and fade away.


Why This Approach Works?

There are many benefits from following this or similar approaches:

  • The activity is a form of teambuilding exercise.
  • It creates a sense of belonging where people have influenced the creation of their own environment and personalised it based on their own philosophies.
  • It creates opportunities to talk to other employees around a neutral poster (Make sure to place some of these posters in the coffee room).
  • It helps to tap into employees’ creativity and artistic skills that might otherwise remain unnoticed.
  • It leads to a creative and collaborative project involving everyone’s artistic skills.
  • It harmonises and levels the team as everyone’s vote is treated equally and no one’s work, opinion or position has precedence over others.
  • The posters act as a form of self-expression instead of being imposed by the management or a marketing department. As such, it leads to a stronger bonding between employees.
  • It creates a visual philosophy created by employees for external clients to see and appreciate, leading to further cooperative work and understanding.
  • The periodic change (which should not be skipped) indicates a dynamic and changing organisation whose philosophy is not set in the past and is energetic, exciting and forward looking.

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