Past the Point of No Return

Watching people age who have not taken adequate care of themselves has helped me realize that few individuals or organizations have sufficient imagination to understand and prevent their own points of no return. Whatever we love most in life will become impossible unless we work daily to maintain the capacities that make these joys possible.

For individuals these capacities are typically physical, mental and emotional health and financial security. Mobility and energy are easily lost without regular exercise and good diet. Mental acuity slips away without lifelong learning. Emotional health is renewed through the relationships we nurture. And financial security may have more to do with resilience and resourcefulness than career or financial planning in a world where chance and uncertainty can scuttle the best plans.  

Organizations call these capacities their core competencies—the abilities and attributes they must have to succeed in their mission and achieve their vision. Maybe it’s your ability to innovate or execute new ideas. Maybe it’s your consistent and reliable delivery of a set of services. Maybe it’s your knowledge that informs and guides your field. Maybe it’s your relationships that create community and organize networks of power and change.

Just like people, organizations can fall into patterns of neglect and bad habits. They stop investing in and updating their capabilities. They can grow complacent and lose their sense of direction and discipline. One day they, too, wake up to realize too much damage is done and something vital is gone.   

Can you name your organization’s core competencies? Do you understand what it takes to maintain them? Can you detect and prevent the decisions and behaviors that put these competencies at risk? If not, your organization is just as likely to slip past your own point of no return as any individual and be unable to sustain your best work in the world.