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Slam the Brakes on That Spinning Hamster Wheel!


By Joel A. Miller, ChateauHR Consulting

Expert Editorial

Too often people mistakenly assume high activity equals actual progress. Jennie was wiped out after a second 70+ hour week at the Tasting Room…but she was so proud of the work done as the TR manager to improve sales.  She had rearranged the merchandise…added new signage – that customers could now read…scrubbed the back room floor one night to demonstrate to her team how important cleanliness is to the business.  The list went on and on…

When Jennie met with her boss, she got an earful of criticism about the recent sales stagnation.  He wanted to know what she was doing about it.  She gleefully pulled out her list and ticked off all of her efforts and handed it to him.  To her shock, he balled up the list and tossed it into the trashcan.  “So what?” he asked.  Jennie tried to explain all of her efforts and time…but he kept shaking his head, as he knew she wasn’t working on the right things.

Jennie had fallen into the (often insidious) trap of being very busy – but not strategically focused.  It happens to most of us at one time or another.   You’re busting your butt…coming home exhausted…and feeling like you’re making lots of progress…but you’re not.  And it’s a trap – you feel great about getting so much done, but then realize (usually from others) that you’re not moving the needle.  I call it the “Hamster on the Spin Wheel” effect.

The first step to deal with this is awareness.  You can’t fix something if you don’t know about it, or understand.  So step off the spinning wheel, find a quiet corner (and perhaps a Starbucks), and take a long, hard look at your progress.  Are the big-ticket items really getting done?  Are you focusing on the easier small stuff?

Stephen Covey, in his classic “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, talks about “beginning with the end in mind.”  This is as simple as it sounds.  To make real progress, you need to first define what is real progress.  Get clear on the results you expect to see AFTER all of the efforts are done.  Strive to get specific on current state vs. future state – what are the measures of success?  Now you’re got some real targets.

Then begin backwards planning – what efforts/projects/initiatives are going to make this happen?  Don’t fall into the trap of “work harder” or “be better”.  That’s a pipe dream, not a plan.  Get specific on the details of what will change that will move the needle.  And then map out your plan to make that happen.  Get started today – there’s no time like the present to get moving in the right direction.

Manager, how do you coach others who are trapped on their “spinning wheels”?  First, be aware that they’re working really, really hard (ie. spinning fast) and trying to do the right things.  So be gentle, and initially provide praise, and acknowledge their efforts.  After you’re certain they’ve heard you and “taken it in”, then proceed to begin asking questions about real progress.  “Are the numbers improving like we expected?  Are the Sales up?  How do you know that these efforts are the right ones?”  Expect some resistance, as they’ve been so narrowly focused and spinning so fast.  But stay the course, and they’ll begin to understand the shortfalls.  And by redirecting their efforts they will see faster results.

Surprisingly, it is a rarity in today’s world to find ill-intentioned employees. Instead, we often see mis-directed workers who aren’t focused on the right things, or aren’t doing things in the right ways.  Our role, as managers, is to course-correct for the benefit of all concerned.  The employee will feel better about making real progress, and have more ideas and contributions once they’ve hopped off of the spinning wheel.

Joel A. MillerExpert Editorial

by Joel A. Miller

Joel A. Miller, Principal at ChateauHR Consulting, has led Human Resource teams in both public and private firms across multiple industries.  He specializes in small and medium-sized businesses looking to better utilize their talent and drive business results for long-term success. He has deep expertise across all facets of HR and strategic planning.   Joel also serves as an Adjunct Professor in Sonoma State University’s Executive MBA Program and Wine Business Institute.  You can learn more about his work at www.ChateauHR.com, and reach him at [email protected] or (707) 217-2468.


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