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The Normalization of Deviance is affecting your bottom line

BY TONY GONZALEZ

The Culture of Business was a course I took to complete my masters program. One of the main topics that we focused on was the "normalization of deviance". It has been proven that normalization of deviance played a major role in both of the NASA Space Shuttle disasters, the events of 9/11, along with other major catastrophes we have witnessed.

Normalization of deviance works like this: Imagine a line drawn down the middle of a room – let’s call this our normal. Everything that we build as culture, rules that we employ in our dealership and visions that we have of the perfect dealership fall right on this line. When mistakes, missteps, or deviation occur in your dealership — and they are allowed to go on, uncorrected — we produce normalization of deviance. When this occurs, the new norm is shifted slightly off of your line, thus creating a new norm that has deviated from your original utopian desires.

While most of us cannot solve NASA’s issues, nor am I suggesting that you try and thwart terrorism, see if these scenarios sound familiar to you. As a sales manager you consistently tell your staff to “greet that person” or “put this person on the traffic log.” As the General Manager you walk by your Parts Department and see your entire PG&A staff standing behind the counter, faces staring down at a computer, while there is a customer trying on jackets. As the owner you continue to pick up trash throughout your dealership that is in the direct path of almost everyone working for you.

If any of these things sound familiar you may search your soul for answers to the question – Why? You may run through answers in your head — all too familiar to those in ownership or management positions. “I have a lazy staff.” “They don’t care about anything but their Facebook page.” While there may be many answers to your complex problems, one that you are not thinking about is the normalization of deviance.

Managers are supposed to manage; management by definition is the collective body of those who manage or direct an enterprise. So how do we stop the normalization of deviance that is reducing your bottom line as you read this? By ensuring that you train and hire everyone correctly before they cross the drawbridge into your empire, create a management culture that meets deviance with instant reinforcement of rules and foster an environment of continuing evolution and education and produce immediate feedback for even the slightest forms of deviation.

I am not suggesting that you fire people, nor do I preach making examples of staff — I am simply promoting that managers should manage instantly, on the spot, and continuously. A sales person does not log a customer? Immediately turn this into a trainable moment by reinforcing the concept that the 33 follow up phone calls off the traffic log will produce one-unit sale. A parts employee shows up two minutes late: take them off the floor, explain the rules that are in your dealership operations manual, and ensure consequences next time – yes, even for being two minutes late…do not let them create a new normal (8:02 a.m.). A Service Writer will not perform a proper walk around while taking in a unit…train them on how you want it done, explain why it is so important and reinforce the consequences if the behavior does not change.

By allowing short cuts or underperforming standards, both examples of normalization of deviance, we promote the behavior. Say this to yourself over and over: “By allowing the normalization of deviation, I promote the normalization of deviation”. How does it affect your bottom line? In the Sales Department: Lost sales by not using your traffic, allowing your staff to sell based on price only, and not following a sales process that seeks to connect with a customer. In the Parts Department: Lost sales by not teaching and reinforcing the concepts of adding-on and upselling, by allowing your staff to park themselves behind a counter and take orders and by not educating your Parts Manager on how to control their obsolescence. In the Service Department: Not creating a bon-a-fide sales process in the service department, consistently being understaffed and overbooked, and by allowing Open Repair Orders to accumulate without a weekly audit.

Normalization of Deviation is losing you money. Take control of you processes and reinforce your rules. It is not only the big things that make a difference, it is the small things – the paper cuts – that can make you hemorrhage money.

Tony Gonzalez is CEO of Garage Composites. He began his career in the motorcycle industry when he was hired by Ed Lemco in 2004. A true student of the industry, he quickly became a sales trainer and a moderator. Gonzalez has a keen model to motivate his clients and is considered one of the best 20-Club moderators in the industry. Tony believes that his greatest accomplishment was recreating the environment that put the motorcycle dealer first again. He is passionate about being a dealers advocate and firmly believes that his dealers are his family, not his clients.  

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