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REAL motivation posters

"The customer is always right." "Employees are our greatest asset." "The customer is why we're here." You see those lame posters in businesses across the world. They mean little, and they motivate nobody.

Yesterday, Bert and I were in Miami after giving a "creating passionate users" talk on Marco Island. Bert had a printing emergency, and the Hilton's business center printer was glacial. Bert mentioned it to the front desk clerk who was a hero and had Bert come behind the desk to the office and use the way faster printer back there.

Fast forward 15 minutes, when the manager-on-duty walks behind the desk, sees that A Customer has Been Allowed Behind The Desk, and proceeds to rail on the clerk--telling her that customers are NEVER supposed to be back there, and what did she think she was doing, and never do that again, etc.

Ironically, the one thing Bert "saw" behind the desk was a for-employee-eyes-only poster that said in 72-point bold type, "The Customer is why we're here." and "The Customer is NEVER an inconvenience."

Then I recalled the time I worked on the interactive version of Oracle's Annual Report. We did a video shoot of Larry Ellison saying openings for each chapter of the report. If only I'd kept the outtakes for the one that had my team on the floor--Larry was reading a script for the opening of the "People" chapter and had just completed the phrase, "Our employees are our greatest asset," when something off-camera pissed him off. He threw the script down and began ranting and swearing, including the words, "What is this crap? I want somebody fired for this s***!"

So, just how useful are those cliched slogans? (Including my personal worst--"None of us is as smart as all of us.") Maybe we should replace them with something a little more real for 2006. Here are three of my before-and-after posters...

Bill Gates fake:


Bill Gates real:


Larry Ellison fake:


Larry Ellison real:


Scott McNealy fake:


Scott McNealy real:


Here's to a more real 2006 ; )

[And don't forget to visit Despair Inc., for a look at the world's best demotivational posters.]

So, what meaningless slogans can you replace (or at least destroy) today? Hmmm... I wonder what would happen if you changed some at work... would anyone even notice? That's the problem. It's not like anyone reads these things, let alone applies the message. Motivation--especially when it comes to a deep concern for the users--does not come from saying it. It comes from a culture of meaning it.

Posted by Kathy on January 14, 2006 | Permalink


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» REAL Motivation Posters (courtesy of Creating Passionate Users) from Phil Gerbyshak Challenges You to Make It Great!
Absolutely hilarious (and unfortunately probably true) post on Creating Passionate Users: about REAL motivation posters. You've got to go over there to check it out, especially if you live in an organization filled with cliches.The lesson from this fan... [Read More]

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/except/expect/ in the 4th photo

good points though, at a previous job we put post-it notes over particular words in the motivational signs, and wrote other words on those post-its.. nothing sick or dirty, just making them more "real" ... the post-its usually stayed up for weeks before anyone noticed (other than those who just snickered and walked away, that is)

Posted by: Ben | Jan 15, 2006 12:04:55 AM

Any chance you could hide/obfuscate email addresses that your commenters leave? I don't mind giving YOU my address, but the spam crawlers are a different story. Should I just make up a fake address if I want to comment around here? :)

Posted by: Ben | Jan 15, 2006 12:07:02 AM

Ben, I'm pretty sure Kathy doesn't want your email address. I'm guessing it's required just to deter trolls or comment spammers or somesuch. I use a real account for this sort of thing, but all e-mail I receive gets auto-trashed. I suppose a fake account would work as well.

Kathy, this is a great post, and nearly every person who has ever worked for a largish company can relate. Lame posters abound, and if anything, are a negative motivational factor.

Because I'm currently interning as a spelling & grammar Nazi, I'll mention that Larry carelessly used the word "except" instead of "expect." What is this crap? I want somebody fired for this s***! Heh.

Posted by: Splashman | Jan 15, 2006 12:44:12 AM

well, before i read your article, I laughed so hard, because in your first picture, there's Bill Gates saying "the customer is always right" and the text is set in Apple's famous Apple Garamond :) - Cool&subtle - was that intentional?

and about your point: you're going to war against the windmills here. Sorry. And even if they stop making motivational posters, they'll resort to some other fake.

Posted by: Eugen Erhan | Jan 15, 2006 2:05:24 AM

Hear, hear! I can't say I've ever been motivated by some bland over-generalizing "value" like "The customer is always right". However, I can say I can get very motivated by hearing real stories of individual customers or clients. If I know my extra efforts will make the day of just a few people, that's something I can strive towards. I'd much rather benefit clients and customers than my employers (who rarely seem to appreciate or notice any extra effort).

Posted by: Jesse Skinner | Jan 15, 2006 6:38:08 AM

Here's a "motivational poster" that I made for my part-time workplace, a public library:


It's made of books and is in the back office where only we ducks can see it. I won't tell you who it's actually aimed at, but the sentiment is *quite* real!

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not make up the saying.


Posted by: Cyndi L | Jan 15, 2006 6:45:34 AM

For inspiration from a business leader who got it, check out the excellent book "The customer comes second" by Hal Rosenbluth. His message is simple: Put your people first, and THEY will treat the customers right.

His book should be required reading for CEO's. Review here: http://www.positivesharing.com/journal/00000083.htm

Posted by: Alexander Kjerulf | Jan 15, 2006 7:06:19 AM

Damn, that picture of Larry Ellison is great! On a completely unrelated topic, any on who hasn't read the book "Simply Scheme" by Brian Harvey and Matthew Wright, should do so immediately. It emphasizes "learning" first as do the books in the Head First series. It is also a really good workout for your brain!

Posted by: rooster | Jan 15, 2006 10:46:28 AM

This all relates to item 10 of Deming's 14 points; eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce. This didn't seem to do Japanese industry much harm. Deming said:

"Posters that explain to everyone on the job what management is doing month by month to (for example) purchase better quality of incoming materials from fewer suppliers, better maintenance, or to provide better training, or statistical aids and better supervision to improve quality, not by working harder but by working smarter, would be a totally different story: they would boost morale. People would then understand that the management is taking some responsibility for hangups and defects and is trying to remove obstacles. I have not yet seen any such posters."

Most people don't come to work to not "Do it right first time", "Be a Quality Worker", "Take Pride in Your Work" or "Increase Productivity". These are signposts of the management saying they don't take responsibility.

Job plans are a related area. Having said that, all my employees have job plans modelled on Scott Adams' "OA5" (Out at Five) plan in one of his Dilbert books. 2/3 the text is what I will do for the employee... and it seems to work :-)

Ian W.

Posted by: Ian Waring | Jan 15, 2006 2:22:51 PM

My favorite is "We are a meritocracy." It took me some time, but now I know it means: "We will make you work harder, and pay you less, but one day... well, one day, nothing. We'll just promote our buddies and say you 'lack proactivity' or isn't a 'people builder.'"

Posted by: an Onymous | Jan 15, 2006 3:58:39 PM

Your posting reminded me of what we use to say at Saturn back in the day. Nothing should be said or done inside our company that we wouldn't want a guest (that's what we called customers and car buyers) to hear. Idealistic I know. But I prefer prefer aiming high than living hip deep in the BS.

Who wants to drink the Koolaid once you know the quality of water they're using in the mix?

Posted by: Michael Wagner | Jan 15, 2006 8:00:57 PM

Where's the Steve Jobs poster?

Posted by: Charles Miller | Jan 15, 2006 8:04:24 PM

You always come up with winners, Kathy. Where I work, a couple of weeks ago I saw a sign over a cube that said "Bias for Action, Passion for Results". I thought that was pretty cool philosophy, and I started using it in my email signatures.

I stopped by the cube and asked the denizen there where the saying came from ... and told him I liked it. To my horror, he pointed me to a Dilbert on his cube wall where the saying came from.


Oh well ...

If God had meant for carrots to be eaten cooked, He would have given rabbits fire.

Posted by: M. Edward (Ed) Borasky | Jan 15, 2006 11:58:20 PM


I was refered to 37 signals by one of my friend and I find it quite useful and helpful.It has given me a whole new vision before undertaking a product development.
I read this article, I find it quite true and impressive but the examples that are shown..... woudnt that be too lengthy as well as a bit harsh and straight to the customers.......Just a concern

Blog: http://flashonmind.blogspot.com

Posted by: Shilpi Bharara | Jan 16, 2006 1:55:24 AM

It's like the story of a ahem..well someone of ill-repute :-).
First you do it for the love of it,
Then you do it for your friends,
and eventually you do it for money.

Posted by: Tarry Singh | Jan 16, 2006 2:13:55 AM

hey Kathy i just wondered if you "closed the loop" - that is, ensured the manager knew just how unhelpful/they were being. obviously talking to their manager might have led to unfortunate consequences for the really helpful employee. in that case - accentuate the positive, and ensure the hotel manager recieves a commendation directly from you about how the employee is a "hero" and should be thought of accordingly

Posted by: james governor | Jan 16, 2006 3:52:25 AM

Kathy some of your readers are not US or european, so could you please avoid words such as ass. I know this is usual in the US culture, but it is not somewehe else.

Posted by: Alien | Jan 16, 2006 4:28:55 AM


I think it is important to address the money issue before cute and inspirational slogans. The objective of every business (even non-profits) is to profit. You can certainly be philanthropic and driven by moral or grand ideals - but you can only do that so long at a loss.

Make everyone comfortable and cognizant of that fact. It isn't greedy (unless it is greedy). Then you can work on the way you go about staying in the black. Unfortunately, some companies seem to be hiding the fact that there is a profit motive from their employees . By doing so, they make the slogans empty platitudes because everyone knows the truth.

I explain the same thing to those who are trying to advance their career. Even while you are trying to find your vocation and perform noble and satisfying work, you must include a profit motive. If nothing else, you must be able to eat and have some basic lodging.

Posted by: Matthew Moran | Jan 16, 2006 6:04:11 AM

Alien - quite right. Many people might see "ass" and think only of Equus asinus, the donkey, when in fact "ass" could also refer to the kiang (Equus kiang) or the onager (E. hemonius) or even the African wild ass (E. africanus) and its Somalian variant (Equus africanus somaliensis). To be politically correct, we should refer to them as non-horse and non-zebra equines.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Jan 16, 2006 8:00:56 AM

Hmmmm... and there was little me who thought "ass" was the american way of spelling arse aka backside aka bottom. Still learning here!

Posted by: Ian Waring | Jan 16, 2006 1:06:38 PM

and "butt" for that matter. There's actually a street in the town where I live (in England) called St Mary's Butts - but that predates the USA by quite a margin.

Posted by: Ian Waring | Jan 16, 2006 1:10:12 PM

Safety First!

Safety first unless it will cut into production or cost money or change how we've been doing things. Besides, safety doesn't take money it all depends on your having the right attitude. And no one's gotten hurt so far so why change.

Posted by: Jeff | Jan 16, 2006 9:45:27 PM

Ian - Ah, t'is possible. Hmm - maybe St Mary's Butts is where she flicked her fag-ends when having a crafty smoke? :-D

Posted by: Matt Moran | Jan 18, 2006 6:03:16 AM

OK Kathy where are the 300 dpi 11x17" PDF's of the posters located for download and printing...my husband needs the Larry Ellison After for his cube at work!

Posted by: Christine | Jan 18, 2006 7:34:57 AM

The Demotivational posters are wonderful! Thanks so much for the link. My favorite (coming from a company that is obsessed with quality to the point of mania) was "Quality: The race for quality has no finish line--so technically it's more of a death march." Brilliant. And if I worked in the office, I would definitely post it in our kitchen. It would be much appreciated!

Posted by: Wendy | Jan 19, 2006 5:56:07 PM

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