Every successful organisation has, by default, a set of processes in place to adequately manage risk from all perspectives. While these processes are often embarked upon with the best intentions, processes can become corrupted without anyone noticing. When it comes to processes, there is a natural human tendency to rationalise shortcuts under pressure, especially when nothing bad occurs thereafter. The lack of bad outcomes can reinforce the “rightness” of trusting past success instead of objectively assessing risk, thereby knowingly making small mistakes that one day could lead to a preventable risk materialising. This phenomenon is known as the normalisation of deviance.
According to Alex Roberts, CURA Software Solution’s Regional Director of Sales and Operations, leaders are consistently under pressure to maximize certain metrics while minimizing its cost to produce. “This risk-reward modus operandi sets a dangerous precedent for processes, as we begin to reinforce behaviours that lie just outside of our tolerance, but because they have not led to a major risk materialising, we just continue to accept this is a practice that can be repeated without repercussion.”
The normalisation of deviance can be applied to a variety of contexts and scales, from the 1986 Challenger space shuttle crash too, according to Roberts, a seemingly small risk that many of us take every day. “A prevalent example of day-to-day normalisation of deviance is talking on our phones while driving. Many people can’t resist to check a message or answer a call when driving, and often you continue driving without incident. Given the frequency and banality of such occurrences, we begin to tell ourselves that it is perfectly safe to regularly perform the behaviour. The increased practice then becomes a habit – the action becomes a normal part of your driving routine. We are putting ourselves at tremendous personal risk just because a deviant behaviour has been repeated enough for it to no longer feel deviant.”
Roberts concludes that it is fundamental that, from a risk culture perspective, we do not tolerate any normalisation of deviance, because the repercussions could be catastrophic. “There are numerous technological solutions that can be implemented to avoid these types of scenarios materialising. Software solutions, such as those created by CURA, simplify and increase the effectiveness of risk management through reporting, risk awareness, data analysis, decision making and accountability. A successful risk framework should enable an organisation to take risks more intelligently. A well-implemented framework enables businesses to accurately and consistently measure risk so that the company’s risk appetite aligns to its risk-taking initiatives.”