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“Hitting the wall” in business means more than just coming to a dead stop, but also speaks to issues of competencies, relationships, profits, self-determination and whether or not to just the path of least resistance. This familiar phrase is often used, across a variety of professions, to describe a point of perceived limitation that could easily become a defining moment in the life of an organization. NASCAR’s version of ‘hitting a wall’ is a little more graphic than what we see in most organizations, but the symbolism has merit. In professional sports, the phrase is used to describe what happens to rookie players not yet use to the sprint that comes with playing a longer season. There comes a point when the mind, body and spirit all converge around the question “Can I keep doing this?” It’s the recognition that ‘objects in the mirror ARE larger than they appear.’

In business, ‘hitting the wall’ crosses a number of boundaries and makes no distinction between age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, physical ability, organizational function or favorite sports team. Organizational complexity may be a factor, but not the determining factor. Simplicity only allows for hitting the wall a lot faster. Organizations, as a whole, and individuals reach a point in a relationship where the opportunity to move forward is hindered by the reality of what lies ahead and the willingness to take on the challenge. What does the entry level employee that, after six months on the job, doesn’t know if they can continue to handle the work demands or the veteran employee who has watched their job tasks shrink while their skills remained stagnant have in common? They both have hit the competency wall. Mitigating circumstances like leadership style of the boss, culture of the organization and internal politics should be appropriately weighted when analyzing why a wall was hit. However, when boiled down to its true essence, the step needed to move to the next level of success is grounded in the willingness of the individual to make the move. When competencies around a task, goal or an ideal are taken out of focus by unexpected events, the damage extends far beyond organizational vision or individual ego. At that moment of awareness, fate is a willingness choice and not a woe-is-me outcome. What’s left is the decision to move forward, stand still or get out. When analyzing entry level turnover rates or seasoned employee exits, an in-depth look at the numbers and factors will, most likely, reveal that a significant number of those exits that can be attributed to an inability to see the wall that was obvious to everyone else. Similar to their counterparts in professional sports organizations, veteran employees know when a person is about to ‘hit a wall’ because they’ve gone through the experience and know that it can be conquered. There are those who come through the experience because they are simply built that way, while others require advice, support and guidance. The costs for those latter three elements are far less than the cost for an endless cycle of turnover. Though organizations may be similar in their product or service offerings, they are all culturally unique and have amassed a body of information about many of the behavioral patterns of their employees. This uniqueness suggests that there are organizational symptoms that can be translated into internal support activities designed to steer an employee away from ‘hitting the wall’ and staying in the race.

It is no secret in the life experience that there will always be relationships that just don’t work. Those are uniquely different from those that can work and don’t due to the unwillingness to give that little extra effort that comes with a little extra support. As was overheard recently when an employee remarked that after six months on a job, he was ready to give it up, the veteran employee said, “Just think how much better you will be in.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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