April 29, 2024 | Mark Paradies

Stopping the Normalization of Deviation with the Normalization of Excellence – How Admiral Rickover Did It

Rickover – Normalization of Deviation / Normalization of Excellence

This is the key to the series on preventing the “normalization of deviation” with the “normalization of excellence.”

Read about Admiral Rickover’s successful efforts to establish the first high-reliability organization and how you can use the same philosophy to improve your process safety program.

What is the “normalization of deviation” (or deviance)?

How did Admiral Rickover change the paradigm with the “normalization of excellence”?

What are Rickover’s 21 secrets to reactor (process) safety success?

The articles that explain this are summaries below with links to all the articles.

Seven Articles Explain High-Performance Organizations

You may have dropped in on this series of seven articles that answer the questions above somewhere in the middle of the series. Here are links to each article – in order – with a quick summary of each article…

No Such Thing as Normalization of Deviation

1. There is No Such Thing and the Normalization of Deviation

The point of this article is that deviation IS NORMAL. Management must do something SPECIAL to make deviation abnormal.

Stop Normalization of Deviation with Normalization of Excellence

2. Stop Normalization of Deviation with Normalization of Excellence

A brief history of how Admiral Rickover created the first high-performance/high-reliability organization – the Nuclear Navy.

The Nuclear Navy has a history of over 70 years of operating hundreds of reactors with ZERO reactor/nuclear (process) safety accidents.

He stopped the normalization of deviation with the NORMALIZATION OF EXCELLENCE. Excellence was the only standard that he would tolerate.

This article prepares readers for the three essential elements of his efforts to ensure reactor safety:

  • Technical Competence
  • Responsibility
  • Facing the Facts

Each of these is detailed in the next three articles.

Technical Competency

3. Normalization of Excellence – The Rickover Legacy – Technical Competency

This article describes the first of Rickover’s three keys to nuclear (process) safety: TECHNICAL COMPETENCE. The big difference here is this isn’t just competence for operators or supervisors. Rickover required technical competence all the way to the CEO.

Total Responsibility

4. Normalization of Excellence – The Rickover Legacy – Responsibility

The second key to nuclear (process) safety excellence (the normalization of excellence) is RESPONSIBILITY.

Do you think you know what responsibility means? See what Rickover expected from himself, his staff, and everyone responsible for nuclear safety.

Facing the Facts

5. Normalization of Excellence – The Rickover Legacy – Facing the Facts

FACING THE FACTS is the most important of Rickover’s keys to achieving excellence.

Read examples from the Nuclear Navy and think about what your management does when there is a difficult decision to make.

Facing the facts could change your company’s process safety program.

Rickover in Rx Vessel

18 Additional Elements of Rickover’s Approach

6. Normalization of Excellence – The Rickover Legacy – 18 Other Elements of Rickover’s Approach to Process Safety

Here are the other 18 elements that Rickover said were required (in addition to the first three keys mentioned above).

That’s right, the keys are the start, but you must do all of these 18 well.

Then, read about the three problems that remained in the Nuclear Navy to achieve total performance excellence.

Rickover’s Congressional Testimony

7. Statement of Admiral Rickover in front of the Subcommittee on Energy Research and Production of the Committee on Science and Technology of the US House of Representatives – May 24, 1979

Here is Rickover’s own writing on what makes the Nuclear Navy special. How, to this day (over 35 years after Rickover retired), he still keeps the reactor safety record spotless.

That’s it. The whole series. I hope you read every article.

Admiral Rickover

Mark’s Story – One Bad Apple

To conclude this series of articles, here is Mark Paradies describing his story about the Normalization of Deviation and the re-establishment of the Normalization of Excellence.

(This article was originally published in the 1990s. It has been revised and improved twice and was most recently republished here.)

Operational Excellence, Process Safety
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