Achieving balance: It's just like riding a bike

Contributing Writer

Most of us at one time or another have found ourselves spinning our wheels. Either we're lost, going in circles or heading in absolutely the wrong direction. Have you ever ridden a bike? I have found the best way to stop spinning my wheels is to apply the principles behind the two-wheeler to my business scenario. Pretty soon, I'm driving in a straight line with purpose and direction.

How does it work? Simple. A bicycle has two wheels - a front wheel and a back wheel. The back wheel is the drive wheel; it makes the bicycle go by converting your energy into forward movement. The front wheel steers, directs and uses all that back wheel power to take you where you want to go. Knowing the difference between the two wheels insures easier application to a business situation.

The back wheel represents what we know about our business, the "hard stuff:" business expertise, technical knowledge, organizational skills, goals and reports, process knowledge, product knowledge and management. Think of the back wheel as the What.

The front wheel represents what we know about people, the "soft stuff:" people knowledge, communication, team building, motivation and information. Think of the front wheel as the How.

To make this work, it's important to achieve balance between both wheels. For instance, the back wheel ensures that we do things right while the front wheel ensures that we do the right thing. Each is equally important.

Also, the back wheel can be considered reactive, dealing with the past while the front wheel is more proactive and deals with the future.

The back wheel is task-oriented and the front wheel is people-oriented. The back wheel deals with compliance and control while the front wheel is more concerned with commitment. While the back wheel pertains to efficiently managing things, policies and procedures, the front wheel effectively leads people and motivates them.

Quantity, something easily measured, is objective and falls under the back wheel. Quality something that's harder to measure is more subjective and is part of the front wheel. The back wheel tends to be tactical while the front wheel is more strategic. The back wheel documents the problems; the front wheel creates the solutions. The back wheel works in your system, the front wheel works on your system.

Enough already with the analogies. But in each case, do you see that there needs to be a balance between the two wheels to fashion a successful operation? As Frank Sinatra used to say: you can't have one without the other.

Knowledge is power, but it's what you do with that knowledge that makes things happen. Training should not only to increase knowledge about a product. It should also be applied to teach people how to use that knowledge with other people. Statistics without a plan are just useless numbers. Talk is important for its content, but so is listening so as to understand and act. If you are to discipline the 5-10 percent who create problems, you must also reward the 90-95 percent who create the solutions.

Most companies that struggle today have an imbalance between their front wheel and back wheel. In those cases, the back wheel dominates because working with people appears to cost more than working with equipment or product. However, not putting resources like air and money into that front wheel will stop the back wheel dead in its tracks.

Dave Benak teaches leadership, management and supervision at Clark College and Portland Community College. He also owns and operates TrainingPays, a local training and development company. Your comments, concerns and questions are invited at or (360) 944-7571.

© 2010 TrainingPays