We’ve all seen motivational posters. They’re part of a multimillion-dollar world of inspirational live speakers, books, free coffee mugs and calendars and, yes, posters. Imagine skydivers, mountain climbers, and extreme-sports athletes demonstrating their rock-hard wills along with inspiring phrases. “Perseverance: What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” “Respect: Give it to get it.” “Teamwork: When we all work together, we all win together.” Are you feeling motivated yet?
If your answer is no, University of Iowa associate business professor Kenneth Brown isn’t surprised. Likening a motivational poster to a drop of rain in the ocean, Brown says motivational gimmicks only work if they’re part of a broader campaign. “They may have some impact [if they accompany] clearly outlined goals and a commitment from management,” he says.
Brown says boosting morale or changing people’s behavior only works in a multi-pronged strategy. “If managers are committed to creating change and create a sense of urgency that change is needed and explain the reasons, then posters and coffee mugs can be a small part of it.”
Brown’s take on motivational techniques comes from a study he conducted on training sessions. He studied two groups of students who volunteered for a training session. One group was given small gifts when they came to the session. They also listened to music during breaks. The other control group was given gifts at the end of the day and heard no music. Brown found that reactions to gifts and music in the first group was mixed. Some students reacted positively to the gifts and music and reported their moods had improved. Other students, however, were suspicious of the motives of the experimenter and reacted negatively. Cheap slogans are no substitute for commitment to change and goal setting to make sure change happens.