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May 2009


Sometimes when I visit companies I become acutely aware of SPOW. SPOW is a buzz word that ought to have greater currency. According to the Free Dictionary SPOW means Scope and Program of Work. Nope. According to Wikipedia SPOW means Science Parks of Wallonia. Nope. They all have it wrong, and in any case we need to talk about Surviving SPOW. Sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? What am I talking about - some new food product? Spow Chow Mein? Spow Bolognese? No. SPOW is Sheer Pressure Of Work. Know this one? Ring a bell?


SPOW hits people hardest – more perhaps than any other area of work. Directors and managers can almost cope with increasing admin. And, yes, bureaucracy. They can spend hours at the operational interface. There is, after all, something satisfying about work - that’s why we do it. But when our own people start producing SPOW for us ... hell! That truly is the pits.


Who are these people? You know them, surely ... There’s ....


Mr Plausible Liar. He’s always saying, ‘Yes, boss’ and smiling. He doesn’t need any support. He gets on with things. He radiates confidence - is always passing a joke or two - is always at someone’s ear - someone important. No need either for too much detail with him - he obviously knows what he’s doing. Briskly, he moves on from discussing in too much detail work issues. But funny how production keeps slipping. Funny how cock-ups keep occurring.


Of course, there’s also Mr I.M. History, who’s been with us now for at least ... well ... seventy-nine years. He’s seen all the changes and knows none of them are good. But solid chap - solid as a brick - and we’d never sack him (loyalty and all) - and anyway, he is part of the building. He really has grown into that chair.


Then there’s Ms Prima Donna. We always notice her - there’s always so much to notice. Oh dear! Did we omit to give her a 25% pay hike last year because she deigned to stay late twice to help out? We really need her star quality. It’s a real crying shame she’s never appreciated enough. The world owes her a living - and we are privileged to make the major contribution.


Finally, there’s Mr and Mrs Bitter-and-Twisted, and their well known trapdoor: just when you try to treat them like normal human beings - whoosh! - you go straight through the floor. The good thing is: we can rely on them in a crisis. Yes, we can rely on them - to enjoy it and parrot together, ‘I told you so’. Sometimes, through the walls, you hear a deep guttural snigger on the other side. Sometimes you simply spot knife-sharpeners left lying carelessly in drawers.


Did I say ‘finally’? The story wouldn’t be complete without Mr and Mrs Diamond. They shine - they really do - and their skills and commitment are our cutting edge. Yes, these people I really enjoy coming to work to work with. These people are creative with the light our company shines.


One way of Surviving SPOW is ensuring we have enough Mr and Mrs Diamonds in our pack! Now, how can we do that?

James Sale



Motivational Maps Ltd, my company, has a fantastic product called the Motivational Map – it can tell you what your motivators are in rank order, what that means, and how motivated you are. Good, eh? Yes, but everything has its limitations, and today I ought to be frank about using the Maps, and possibly any other diagnostic tool, in terms of effective people development. Because that’s what we all want and why we use these tools: to generate effective people development.

The expression I like to use is: avoid motivating the game players. Motivating game players is like throwing petrol on a fire – it makes the fire worse. Or even more subtly, it’s like putting petrol in a car engine – it only makes the car – and the game - run!

I don’t know the exact number but I suspect it’s somewhere between 10-20% of any population that consists of game players. You find them in any gathering of people – especially in the work place, social institutions, and clubs that you may belong to. The key way to spot them is not to look at all – it is to feel. Their presence is always accompanied by a discernible drain of energy on your part – you come away having engaged them in some conversation or, worse, activity, and you feel that they have taken something from you. This is because, according to Eric Berne, author of Games People Play (1964), “Every game … is basically dishonest”.

The person playing the game wants what Berne calls ‘the payoff’ – the satisfaction felt from the desired and entirely predictable outcome.

Today I had my hair cut. As I sat waiting, I noticed outside a heavily overweight woman on crutches stamp by the window. In a minute she went back the other way. At least three or four times she went back and forth. At last it was my turn; I sat in the chair having my hair cut. Now I noticed in the mirror that the same woman was poised outside the shop – she seemed to attempt to cross the road once or twice, but always made her way back. There is a pedestrian crossing literally 12 feet further up the street from the shop.

I got up to pay. My barber seemed preoccupied looking out of the window. The woman was still there. I said, “That woman seems to be hanging around your shop, B”.

“Yes,” he said sadly. “She lives in the neighbouring house. She’s always arguing with her husband. She’s done this before – I don’t know why she doesn’t use the crossing. I don’t know her – she came in and asked me to drive her to Brockenhurst [about 15 or so miles away] and said she would pay for petrol. I said I couldn’t,” he smiled sadly.

“Gee, B, how could you? You’re alone in this shop – it’s your business.”

“She became angry – I had to tell her to leave.”

“Ah,” I said, “She’s likely to collar me, then, once I step out?” He gave me a look.

I paid him and stepped outside.

A voice said, “Excuse me …”

James Sale