The balancing act

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Do you ever feel like your basic training should have included lessons on the balance beam? After 24 years in the Air Force, while I know a great deal about my career field and about the Air Force in general, I am always looking for better ways to find balance. There are two "balancing acts" I want to address.

In my mind, balancing our home life and work life is the most important balancing act. For many, spiritual life and family life are intimately interwoven. In fact, we should all be familiar with the wingman concept and the importance of balancing the four dimensions of wellness - spiritual, physical, emotional, and social. My spiritual beliefs keep me focused on balancing my career with my family life. It is important for each of us to keep this in focus.

We each must determine the right balance for us. Within that balancing act though, is another important aspect of balance--the question of how to find balance within your work life. As military members, civilians, or contractors, we want to find the most effective way to perform our Air Force mission. As a commander, I balance at least three elements of my mission - tactical management (including problem-solving), strategic planning (forecasting, prevention; process improvement), and personnel management (mentoring and rewarding others; improving my own skills). Front line personnel might focus on three similar elements - performing your duties (including crisis management), improving your methods (process improvement), and "sharpening the saw" (training, education). While our plan for each day can be overwhelmed by crises, we must strive for overall balance.

There are some balancing techniques I've found helpful. Though these are simple, they can get away from us, especially in times of constrained resources and high operations tempo where there are competing demands for our time:
- If you are a supervisor, include at least three themes in your employees' performance plans: meet customers' needs, continuously improve your methods, and be continuous learners. If you are a second line supervisor, it is important to also require your first lines to mentor and reward their team members.
- Make balance a team responsibility. In internal reviews stick to the one-third rule where attention to detail is divided between project status, process improvement, and personnel.
- Lay out a balanced schedule for yourself, with time for performing your mission by planning (forecasting, process improvement efforts, etc), attending training, and rewarding contributions of others.

None of the above ideas are revolutionary. However, in this part of Air Force history, our leadership is forcing some belt-tightening by shifting resources from sustainment into recapitalization of our weapon systems. In order to survive these resource shifts, continuous improvement is now a requirement versus a "desirement". This makes it imperative to strike a balance at work to make time to look at our processes and to foresee what lies ahead. We must try new things. As John Sculley, former leader of Pepsico and Apple Computer, once said, "The best way to be ready for the future is to invent it." We must balance our time between meeting today's challenges and defining tomorrow's.