If you live in southern Manhattan and have failed on several occasions to rendezvous with your UPS man, there's a place you can go to pick up your package yourself.
A bland office at one end of a UPS facility near the Hudson River, it seems like an afterthought in a building that is six city blocks long. But a poster behind the counter greets you with the words "Customer Care" in bold letters, along with a picture of a garden and a caption that reads, "View all customers as beautiful flower gardens that must be cultivated and watered frequently ... They're worth it."
Don't try telling that, though, to the lady who lives on Sixth Avenue and went by there at 5:03 on a Friday afternoon. She was told by someone at UPS's 800 number that her package would be waiting for her. It wasn't. "Gotta love the service," she announced, as if accompanied by someone who was listening.
And don't try telling it to the 20-something guy with the pointy seashells spiked through his earlobes. Picking up his giant Kurzweil synthesizer, he asked whether someone could help him schlep it to the curb. When he was gently denied, he called the man behind the desk a name that can't be repeated. In fact, the UPS employees say, the company's posters routinely bait dissatisfied customers to mock them.
No one is quite sure where motivational posters came from. But like the red windbreaker in the office closet and the casserole dish in the otherwise empty cabinets in the office kitchen, they seem to have been around forever. With their pretty pictures and breathless quotes about "journeys" and "destiny" and "soaring," they're designed to inspire, lift up or at least take the edge off any employee's nagging sense of worthlessness.
But they end up doing so much more. Whenever senior-management consultant Paul McBride would see a poster at a client's office titled "Perseverance," with its lone climber on a glacier, he was filled with a sense of wonderment: "Why is he up there by himself?" he asked. "This guy is really dumb." The waterfall poster at Diane Alter's office -- she has the one about customer service as an attitude, not a department -- transports her: "Boy, would I love to be out there and not here," she says.
A company called Successories, which sells posters, plaques and desk tchotchkes that sport inspirational sayings, has found that the business can be lucrative: Its annual sales now exceed $50 million. Organized into series, like the Culture Builders or the Essence of ... collection, its products may not always inspire. But they sure can scare you. Just consider this saying: "What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it."
But you shouldn't blame Successories for its adages -- or even the employees who, moved by them, tack them up. When management hangs one up, though, watch out. It's not just that the posters, with their bucolic settings and sports photography, are likely to be out of place in synthetic and unathletic workplaces. More galling is the notion that motivation can be outsourced and prepackaged, requiring no more managerial effort than buying flip-flops from Lands' End.
Of course, some people are grateful to get their inspiration wherever they can, but others resent having their boss think they can be rolled so easily. "I'm not going to change my business philosophy based on a poster," says Michael Loughman, a sales manager who inherited the golf-course photo hanging behind his desk with the caption, "Risk: you can't reach your goals without occasionally taking some long shots." After all, he remarks, "It's not like I wasn't going to take a long shot but then I saw this poster and decided to."
John Kafalas, a technical writer, responded to efforts by his employer to cut corners by creating his own poster. It featured a triangle and read: "The Quality Triangle: Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick Any Two You Like!" He finally removed it after his bosses expressed less than a winning attitude toward it, but he replaced it with another: "This Page Intentionally Left Blank." Mr. Kafalas says his posters did get "a little solidarity going within the development group."
Negative approaches even have commercial value, as E.L. Kersten and his co-founders at Despair Inc. can attest. To the tune of $4 million in revenue last year, the company sells captioned pictures including a rainbow ("Dreams: Dreams are like rainbows. Only idiots chase them."), a runner trailing another on a sun-kissed ridge ("Persistence: It's over man. Let her go.") and a rolling snowball ("Teamwork: A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction."). "Somebody in leadership is inevitably not going to live up to those ideals," says Mr. Kersten of Successories' products, the ones with the better attitude. "A tremendous engine for cynicism," he adds, "motivational products don't work, but our products don't work even better."
The concept of putting motivational posters around your home office might seems a little cheesy. Worse again it might even remind you of those awful days when you were surrounded by those God awful company slogans, mission statements and their own versions of motivational posters. All these things were meant to make you more and more productive each day, to develop "loyalty" to the company and to increase staff morale. What effect did they really have? Yup - they drove you a little more mad each day, made you resent who you worked for and made you ask the question "Does human resources or management have any idea what it's like to work here?" Sound familiar? I've been in that hell too believe me.
I understand why you might never, ever want to see a motivational poster again as long as you may live. There's a difference though. This time around YOU get to pick the poster. You can choose a poster that means something to YOU. Not some pointless, heartless, soulless company slogan that makes you want to stick a spoon in your eye and stir it around inside your head until the pain stops. Nope. This time the poster choice is up to you. You can pick a poster that truly speaks to you and has a real meaning. This is the essence of any motivational poster - it has to actually mean something to you or otherwise it's just a waste of time.
Heck it doesn't even need to be a "motivational" type poster. It could be a poster of a favourite movie that reminds you of something you want to achieve in life - financially or otherwise. Things in your home office don't need to be as black and white as they were in the corporate world.
What motivates you at home is going to be totally different to what motivated (if that's the word we can use?) in work. At work you are most frequently motivated by fear - fear of layoffs, fear of not getting the promotion, fear of some petty office politics affecting your career. Too much fear!
Your home office can and should be devoid of this fear. Your personal motivation at home could be self-fulfillment, a better living or more money for your entire family. These are all positive and are all driven by your desire to succeed. A reminder of why you decided to work for yourself in the first place. Any poster you decide to put up in your office can and should reflect this.
For example a big fan of the movie "Fast And The Furious" you may really want a Nissan Skyline. So surround yourself in daily reminders of the car (posters, magazines etc) until you get your Skyline imported directly from Japan. Pick your goal, find your motivator and work to achieve it. Simple eh?
A six-year study by industrial psychologists, the first of its kind, reveals that inspirational posters in company cafeterias and employee lounges cause depression among workers and may trigger homicidal rages. "These posters, which you can buy from the same office supply catalogs where you get your binder clips and yellow highlighters, are sort of like a relentlessly chipper aunt who's always saying things like, 'O, I'm sure you'll find someone nice to marry--someday'," says Malcolm Flynn, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Workplace Psychology at Indianapolis College. "What can be a minor annoyance if you hear it once a year becomes water torture when you have to face it every day."
Inspirational posters in the workplace became popular in the 80's as globalization first began to exert downward pressure on U.S. wages and benefits. "You don't need them if you're having a layoff because then people are motivated by fear," says Flynn. "It's when you're grinding people down with nothing but a cost-of-living increase that you need to buck their spirits up."
The posters lost some of their effectiveness as they became a common fixture in plants and offices across the country, forcing designers to refine their message. "'Hang in there, baby!' was a classic in its time," says Carole Connolly of Workplace Solutions, a Cleveland benefits consulting firm, referring to a widely-used posting depicting a kitten clinging desperately to a tree limb. "We refocus that image for particular situations, such as loss of health insurance, so people are thankful they still have a job at all."
The U.S. Postal Service, which has experienced some of the worst workplace violence in American history, has gone so far as to ban inspirational posters altogether. "We learned our lesson with Mr. Zip," the animated mailman who promotes the use of postal zip codes, says Lloyd Floren, Postmaster for Muncie, Indiana. "Nothing pisses people off like a cartoon character with a shit-eating grin on his face."
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