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Alaina Love
Leadership author

Alaina Love

Alaina Love is co-author, with Marc Cugnon, of The Purpose Linked Organization and co-founder of Purpose Linked Consulting.

Adding insult to injury

Question: It's now obvious that Homeland Security officials misjudged the public reaction to new airport security measures. What should leaders do when confronted with widespread backlash against a decision they still believe to be sound and in which they have invested considerable money and reputation? Should the TSA try to weather the storm or plot a strategic retreat?

The TSA made the same error as many other organizations that implement large-scale change. They failed to effectively communicate the reasons for the change and failed to prepare those most affected by it. No wonder they're the recipients of the public backlash we're witnessing now! From outward appearances, for many Americans it may seem that the choices available for safe air travel include either radiation or physical humiliation--and they're just not buying it.

Consider this recent TSA change with the already deteriorating experience of flying and we may achieve a better understanding of the climate contributing to the current public outrage:

• Most passengers arrive at the airport and drag their luggage from weigh-in and payment at the ticket counter to security, where they hope to see it once again upon arrival. Apparently, paying for your luggage to be transported is no guarantee that it will actually make it to your destination. (And yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but there is no refund if your bags don't arrive.)

• Next, you have the opportunity to partially disrobe at security...belt off (hope my pants don't fall down!), shoes off (the floor feels disgusting through that hole in my sock!), laptop out (whew, almost dropped it!), out with the coins, jewelry, "3oz.-only toiletries in a plastic quart-sized bag", and now you can walk through the metal detector. You buzz anyway and find out later it's your underwire bra--but there's a limit to what you're willing to take off. A pat down or wand with arms straight out to the side is in your future. Later, you're able to get dressed again, but while reaching around and over other passengers trying to reclaim their belongings from a crazed conveyor belt that is shooting out plastic bins faster than anyone can retrieve them. In the mass chaos and rush to the gates, you hope you haven't forgotten anything.

• At the gate you discover that your plane will be delayed 3 hours and you'll miss your connecting flight. You are now the proud recipient of a coupon for an overnight stay in Fargo during February.

• Eventually, hungry, thirsty and tired, you are unceremoniously herded onto the plane. Unless you are among the lucky few in business class, you will spend the next few hours with your knees compressed by the seat in front of you (but not to worry, there's a discount coupon for a local orthopedic surgeon in the Skymall magazine).

Unfortunately, little of what I've described here is exaggerated. The TSA changes have added insult to injury, when the very thing they're designed to provide for is our safety. This might be the right time for the TSA to pause and regroup to develop a better implementation plan for improved security considering the passenger travel experience, and despite the cost already invested. It's appropriate to admit that they haven't quite gotten this right. The TSA can begin by delivering clear and consistent communications about the reasons the screening changes need to occur, along with helping passengers understand the options that are available to them. At the same time, a standing committee of the nation's best security experts and technology companies should be assigned to work with the TSA to spearhead the development of better technology and procedures, since our national security depends on being able to identify more than sharp edges and guns strapped to thighs.

Realistically, the entire air-safety system is only as good as its weakest link, and screening procedures are not uniform around the world or even in the United States. Proof positive: My friend recently traveled to Germany on a business trip. The number of times someone actually looked at his passport while navigating from Washington National to Munich? Zero.

That, my friends, makes me far more nervous than a full body search at security.

By Alaina Love

 |  November 24, 2010; 12:59 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Failures , Government leadership , Making mistakes , Managing Crises Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Security isn't just a technical problem | Next: Understanding resistance


Please report offensive comments below.

· Alaina Love is “right on”! I believe that the TSA needs to study the entire process and the ramification that are involved before arbitrarily making policy that disrupts the travel process and invades the privacy of people. Perhaps looking into and studying what other countries have done would be the smarter thing to do. Then select what is good from each of the countries studied and develop a common sense plan that we can implement here in the US.
· It seems to me that this new requirement is and example of Political Correctness at its worse. The TSA is targeting the wrong people and wasting time, money and resources. The Government is not spending the money wisely in many ways. One example of government wasteful spending is that the TSA should be hiring the “BEST” people for a job that involves our national security. Instead, the fact that TSA employees are able to collectively bargain and unionize will now make it more difficult to get rid of the employees who are unprofessional and poor performers.
· In addition, I am sure that no high-ranking government official who makes these arbitrary policies will ever have to endure the discomfort of being groped or strip searched and herded through the airport like cattle. Perhaps they ought to live a day in the shoes of us peons and have to arrive at the airport three hours before their flight and experience the indignities we must endure. Then perhaps they will think twice before they make these ridiculous regulations.

Posted by: usrinaldis | November 25, 2010 3:05 PM
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Times change. Air travel is about the only time in my life that I have to stand in line and be bossed about.

A few years ago you used to have to stand in line in banks and so on and it was just part of life, but now all that has gone. Partly because standards of service have improved but mainly because you can do so much of that official stuff online.

That's really what gets my back up. I accept the need for security checks, it has to be done, but there must be ways of doing it respectfully.

Posted by: glennet1 | November 24, 2010 9:43 PM
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Ms. Love is "right on"! I’d like to see the TSA regroup after doing some studies as to "What has worked" in other countries. After doing so, collect some of the best ideas and then develop a "common sense " approach that can be implemented in the U.S. that doesn't invade, humiliate or harass the traveler.

Posted by: MartinG1 | November 24, 2010 3:53 PM
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