How To Avoid The High Cost of the Normalization Of Deviance

You have standard operating procedures, best practices, and some things that are done a certain way because it produces the right outcome, the right results. When people avoid using the standard operating procedures or best practices, they fail to obtain an outcome or they cause problems throughout your organization. Because they fail to conform to your standards, they not only jeopardize results, but they also potentially lower the standard for everyone else, a price that is far too high to allow to go unaddressed. Here is how you avoid the high cost of the normalization of deviance.

You Might Be the Problem

One of the most empowering beliefs you can hold as a leader (and as a human being, for that matter), is to believe that everything is your fault. By accepting responsibility for the failings of your team, you recognize you are the cause, and you empower yourself to take action to improve things. There are several ways you may be responsible for the deviance and for allowing it to be normalized.

If you lack awareness that the people who make up your team have traded what’s right for what’s easy or what they like better, you have sown the seeds of normalization by allowing it to go unnoticed. The longer something goes unnoticed, the more time it has to take root. If you are unable or unwilling to inspect how your team is operating, you are allowing someone else to lower your standard to something less than what is necessary.

You can cease being the problem by engaging with your team, ensuring they are operating in line with your standards and expectations.

Allowing Deviance to Go Unaddressed

Some are aware their teams aren’t meeting their standards, but they are unwilling to address the people responsible for the deviations. Some believe they don’t have time to deal with the deviations, that someone else will take care of it for them eventually. Some prefer not to rock the boat, often to retain people, sometimes to avoid conflict. Still others believe they have more important work that requires their time and attention.

The problem with leaving deviance unaddressed is that once it is allowed in one area, it will spread to other areas. If this group need not observe the standards, why then should the next group? If you want to know how deviance becomes the new lower standard, it is by its going unaddressed long enough to grow roots, like a weed.

Your results and your standards are lost When they are not  addressed early enough to prevent others from lowering them and allowing this reduction in the standard to spread.

The Establishment of Nonnegotiable

The idea of “nonnegotiable” can strike people funny. It sounds to their ears like something that smacks of being autocratic, an approach that doesn’t consider other people. That idea is incorrect, as evidenced by ideas like integrity, how people treat each other on teams, and honest dealings with their clients, all of which are nonnegotiable.

The idea of a process or procedure or standard being nonnegotiable doesn’t suggest that there is no room for debate or discourse about how something might be improved, but that would be raising the standard. It also doesn’t mean that at some point, some standard is removed because it is no longer necessary. Instead, nonnegotiable suggest a standard that must be maintained because it is necessary to producing some result in a certain way.

If one way of doing something produces an excellent result and another method produces a fair result, there is no reason not to require it be done in the way that provides the superior result.

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
For want of the rider, the battle was lost;
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost;
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
(Attributed to Ben Franklin)

For example, face-to-face meetings are more valuable than sending emails, yet there are leaders who allow their sales force to email the prospect whose business they are not going to win to send the proposal and pricing by email. Soon, others decide to be efficient instead of effective, and just like that you have a new, much lower standard.

On your pipeline call, Johnny hasn’t reported a new opportunity for five weeks. Instead, he shares that he had a meeting with the big client with the sexy logo last week and things are starting to move, accounting for exactly one of his hours at work. Because you said nothing to Johnny, you have accepted that one is allowed to go more than a month without creating a new opportunity.

Accountability and Consequences

If there are no consequences for deviating from the standard, then there is no accountability. An unwillingness to address the people who are guilty of lowering the standard, is to not have a standard. If there is to be accountability, there must be accountability to the standards, your operating procedures, your best practices, and all the tribal knowledge that there is a way to do things that work better than some other ways.

As a leader, you own the future of your organization or team, which means raising the standard and improving your performance. No leader can afford to allow the normalization of deviance, the lowering of the standard and lowering the bar for their organization.

If you want performance, raise and defend your standards. Crowd out any chance that there is a normalization of deviance.

Filed under: Leadership

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