Redefining the New Normal

Richard Mullane

Michael Mullane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, Col. Michael Mullane (USAF, Ret. and former NASA Astronaut), gave an inspired presentation that addressed guarding against a “Normalization of Deviance” or NOD.  Simply defined, NOD, short for nodding off, is the simple human tendency in pressure situations to rationalize that the normal standard of excellence can’t be achieved under current circumstances.  Absent of any negative results from nodding off, this action yields a false impression that the new norm is acceptable.  Compounded by a consistent belief that repeated success, or more importantly, non-failure, is acceptable, this practice often results in a predictable surprise.

This new norm doesn’t happen overnight, but as a result of a steady deterioration of conscious attention and commitment to standards.  Often prompted by external factors, deviations evolve to the point where companies can look in the mirror and not recognize the reflection.  Most companies adopt a mission statement, identify core values, and establish a list of factors that guide their practice and differentiate them from their competition.  But, job stress, critical deadlines, and especially a diminishing volume of business are some of the key factors that lead to acceptable shortcuts in performance.  The mindset of “it’s good enough for now” informs decision-making until the new standard becomes the accepted norm when in actuality it’s a ticking bomb.  Avoiding NOD requires a fine balance between making enlightened and strategic decisions versus slipping into new modes of practice through a reactive approach.

Some of the ways to avoid NOD begin with leadership.  Mullane suggests that company leaders must empower employees by reinforcing a culture that gives value to their voice, so that all ideas and suggestions are given consideration.  It’s also very important for employees to display a high level of self-leadership; to take ownership of their responsibilities for the betterment of all concerned.  Communication must also remain at the forefront of every activity.  When problems arise in any situation, 99.9% of the time it’s because of poor or lacking communication.  Finally, to avoid nodding off, every employee must act as a watchdog for quality.  When entrepreneurial companies comprised of motivated, self-leaders consistently monitor their standards of quality, make informed and bold decisions, and look to all things as opportunities, nodding off won’t be quite as easy.  Instead, the opposite effect will unfold and a higher norm of quality will result.

– By Mike Ermisch, RLA ASLA

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