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Actions Speak Louder Than Posters

Motivational posters may send the wrong message.

They're both a new accessory in office decor and an attempt to enhance corporate culture. Either way, motivational posters are finding their way onto workplace walls. And most of the managers who put them there hope the posters will create a pleasant atmosphere, change employees' behavior, and ultimately boost productivity.

But do these posters really motivate? If they're perceived as a flavor-of-the-month management tactic, employees may scoff, warns Samuel Culbert, Ph.D., professor of management at UCLA. "Unless they're depressed, people are already motivated to succeed," Culbert notes. "Managers should be trying to remove obstacles to productivity, and they need to ask their people how to do this. By putting up these signs, managers are showing that they don't care about the answers."

Another potential danger is that employees may become confused or cynical if the posters relay messages that contradict the behavior the company actually rewards. Still, it's possible that the posters can have positive effects if they're part of a plan that teaches a company's values and priorities. The problem comes when managers rely on posters to do their work for them. "We don't guarantee anything," says Mac Anderson, chairman of Successories Direct Marketing, a leading motivational-products firm. "We don't think people will change unless management walks the walk."