Clear And Present Danger

I had the privilege of passing through TSA checkpoints several times over the last week. The TSA (short for Transportation Security Administration) was created as a response to the September 11 attacks to improve airport security procedures and consolidate air travel security under a combined federal law enforcement and regulatory agency.

I’m sure we are safer traveling by air these days. However, the TSA has generated one of the best examples of how failure to clearly communicate leader intent leads to confusion and frustration. If you have flown recently, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Looking at the TSA’s Mission, Vision, and Values, I would love to encounter this organization. 
Mission: Protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. 
Vision: An agile security agency, embodied by a professional workforce, that engages its partners and the American people to outmatch a dynamic threat. 
Core Values: Integrity. Respect. Commitment. 
Workforce Expectations: Hard work. Professionalism. Integrity. 
Unfortunately, this is not the TSA I regularly interact with.

One can easily point out many areas ripe for improvement, but I want to focus on one that is common to every organization: customer experience. The words above: freedom of movement, agile, respect, and professionalism would predict a great customer experience. My experience is rarely great, so where is the disconnect?

When our organizations have significant responsibilities, it is easy for people within the organization to shift to a belief that this main goal must be achieved regardless of the impact on other goals. In the case of TSA, keeping weapons and dangerous people off planes is priority #1, and everything else is a distant second (if considered at all).

It is possible to justify this, but it is unnecessary. With great leadership and good training, we can achieve the “big” goal without sacrificing our other priorities and values. In other words, you can treat people with respect and value their time while you screen them and their belongings. You can. It just has to be important.

Communicated leader’s intent is what makes things important, and metrics seal the deal. Unfortunately, government agencies are not well known for having meaningful metrics that impact their team members in purposeful and incentivizing ways. When training, policy, and even posted signage are inconsistent, it further erodes the ability of the team members to provide the intended customer experience.

So, what about our organizations? How are we as leaders doing in clearly communicating what experience we want our team members and customers to have? What are we willing to invest to create the opportunity for people to experience feeling respected and valued—even as we deliver on time, meet our quarterly goals, or keep the nation’s air transportation safe.

If people are to be valued, leaders must clearly and consistently communicate how important this is. For every time we say, “Let’s get this out on time,” we have to say, “Let’s respect each other,” ten times. For each metric that tracks our financial goals there should be two that track our team member and customer experience. We shouldn’t have to trade respect for safety; we should prioritize both. In every community there is always a clear and present danger of failing to care for one another. If we want to live and work (and travel) in places where people are respected and valued, it takes concentrated effort. It may actually be more difficult than keeping air transportation safe, but it is worth it, and it is the Bison Way.