Beyond ‘Normal’ or ‘Standard’

Ask someone what they do, and they’ll probably talk about where they work.

They might say something like ‘I work in car sales at a local dealership.’ The reality is that most of the people who work for the local dealership don’t have anything to do with selling the cars. They work in Security, or IT, or Finance, or Accounting, or the Service Department, or they’re a receptionist greeting customers and answering the phones.

Our society has always trained people (and still does) to come to work in search of normal and standard. They’ve been trained to work with normal people, doing normal tasks, getting normal feedback from a normal supervisor. Standard results are rewarded because (to put it as simply as possible) coloring inside the lines is something we’ve been taught since kindergarten. People will do a really bad job for a long time because it feels normal and because they’re allowed to do standard work. Thousands of people will stick with a job because it feels normal.

If you don’t believe me, why do you think thousands of people are being displaced from jobs they’ve had for 10, 15, 20 or 30 years? It’s happening right now as you read this post.

Review the case study of Kodak. The reason the company failed wasn’t because the leaders at the top didn’t see it coming. It had nothing to do with strategy because they had a plan. It had nothing to do with a technology lapse because they had the early patents on digital cameras.

So, what happened? One employee came to them with his idea for digital photography and the leaders of the company said the time wasn’t right. That one employee (looking beyond normal and standard) took the idea to Fuji and in just little more than a year, Fuji cornered a market that Kodak had dominated for years. Kodak failed because it was a chemical company trapped by a bureaucracy that just wanted to keep doing normal and standard.

A more glaring example is to ask, ‘Why is the school system in this country so hard to change?’ Most people think it’s because teachers and administrators don’t care. That’s just an easy default because, from personal experience, I know they care desperately. It’s because changing the school system isn’t what they signed up for. They signed up to teach and administer, or for normal and standard.

Change is unfamiliar and uncomfortable because it creates abnormal and seeks to go beyond standard.

In the face of inevitable change, the two questions that leaders must begin asking are, (1)’Why did people come to work here today?’ and (2) ‘What did they sign up for?’

Truth Be Told, that’s the only way they’ll discover how far their people are willing to go, especially if they want to go beyond normal and standard.

Published by The Leadership Consortium

Maxie Carpenter was formerly Vice President of HR & Talent Development for Wal-Mart Stores. After a 27-year career, he began to pursue a number of other interests, which included alternative education, nonprofits, consulting, writing and public speaking.

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