Posters and artifacts.. the hidden messages that can undermine change

Take a look around your business, head office or workplace… a real look… what’s on the walls, the noticeboards, stuck to the cupboard in the kitchen, on the toilet cubicle door?

The reason I ask is, I wonder how many outdated and culturally unaligned messages you and your work colleagues are receiving – subliminally as well as consciously

culturally appropriate use of walls in google

During a discovery day with a client last week (not google by the way!), in various places around the site, we spotted a very impressive laminated poster detailing Purpose, Values, Behaviours, Manifesto and Commitments.   It intrigued me as the language didn’t seem to align with some of the statements of Purpose and Values we were hearing in conversation.  When I asked our host about it, fully expecting her to say ‘it’s the previous version.  We’re in the process of getting it redone’, I was shocked to hear instead ‘I’m not even sure how old that is… it probably the version before the version before the one we are working with now.’

And yet it was the most visible, most repeated corporate messaging we saw in multiple locations where multiple teams are working.

Does it matter?  When trying to signal a change, yes it does.

This is not a branding exercise.  If you haven’t managed to line up our ‘icons and artifacts’ with our newly clarified sense of purpose and the words you are using in this space, can we hope to collectively shift behaviours?  Is it any wonder new behaviours slip back into old habits if the visual prompts and reminders I have about what it means to work here don’t prick my conscience to embrace the new habits of the new focus and ways of working?  Saracens rugby team chose to have some amazing visual representations of their values and purpose not just on their posters they stuck to their notice boards, but covering whole walls of the back of house area of their training facilities.

There are some very clever exceptions – some businesses who’ve deliberately not removed old artifacts.  Facebook have rather famously maintained some of Sun Systems signage.. but with a definite purpose to the messaging… seen as a warning that, if you don’t innovate, even the best businesses can fail.

But unless your poster use is that clever, thought provoking and deliberate, it might be worth challenging and questioning just what messages you are sending