Achieving balance: It's just like riding a bike
by DAVE BENAK
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
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
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
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 TrainingPays@aol.com or (360) 944-7571.