Normalized Deviation

One of the most destructful forces for any business is also one of the hardest to guard against. I call it normalized deviation, some call it standardized deviation but it means the same thing. The issue comes up when varying from your normal standards or procedures becomes the norm.

The most commonly used example of this is the burned out light bulb. Imagine you are walking down the hall to your office one day and notice a burned out bulb. Your first thought is probably that you need to get that bulb changed. The next morning you notice the same bulb and think “man, I forgot to get that bulb dealt with”. By the fourth or fifth day if it hasn’t been changed you fail to even notice the burned out bulb when you pass it. The burned out bulb has become “normal”!

Now carry this example to issues that are much more critical to your business. Your month end reports slip by a day or two or a particular staff member comes in late a couple Monday mornings. There are a thousand details in every business that once they start to slip from the standards that have been set, they are on a slippery slope. The first challenge here is of course to set the standards or procedures in the first place. But once you decide on a standard you must maintain it at all times. Things deviating just a little seem innocent enough but that is what makes normalized deviation so hard to guard against. You must be diligent because what seems innocent enough when it starts can be the beginning of a dangerous precedent. The biggest danger is when varying from standards itself becomes the norm.

So make sure you are dealing with all the “light bulbs” in your business the first time you see them. Make dealing with any deviation as soon as it comes up a standard in your business.