Even new hires at TSA want to do their best


We’ve all heard the horror stories and jokes about TSA agents. Some of the ridicule and criticism is warranted whether on an individual or organizational level, some is not. One thing you can’t argue from a recent experience that I had… even TSA new hires have a desire to do their best.

The other day there were two trainees at my home airport in Asheville, NC. I could tell they were new right away because they both wore white, button-down shirts rather than the typical blue ones.

They were also behaving a little different than many TSA agents… they were smiling, friendly and attentive.  They were a little timid in their duties as their trainers looked on, but they seemed to be getting the hang of things. I saw one of them ask his trainer a procedural question, trying to understand the finer points of his new job.

Why are these observations so important?  Because jokes and criticism aside, these two were in it to win it.  They had undoubtedly heard about the bad reputation TSA had, yet still chose to seek employment there.  Maybe they would be the agents of change that would turn around the entire agency.

Or, in a few short months, maybe they will be just like most of the people we have come to expect who are checking our ID’s and boarding passes… gruff, unfriendly and unhelpful.

(I’m just going to leave this right here.)

(To be fair, not ALL TSA agents are gruff, unfriendly and unhelpful… the ones in Manchester, NH were very friendly today, but they are not the norm in my experience.)

But here they are as new hires, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on the world.  Sound familiar?

In any job, new hires are generally engaged and ready to impress.  Their purpose is easy to identify and articulate… to learn their job and make a good impression so they can KEEP their new job.  Once they have accomplished that, then what?

They need a new purpose. But sometimes they don’t find one. And that’s our fault.

Once someone moves on from the honeymoon phase of a job, they need new challenges and to be reminded of how they fit into the big picture. To this point they have just been trying to fit in, now they need some context.  Sure, in orientation we talked about the company values and goals, but honestly for a new hire those don’t mean much until they see them in action.

Which is why, when I work various parks and attractions, one of the first things I ask about is their values.  Do they have them (most do) and what are they doing with them (some a lot, some not much).

Sometimes it’s that a company will have a set of values, but they only reside on a poster in the training room.  No one really knows what they are, what they look like, or as leaders, how to role model and enforce them.

So when I think about these TSA trainees, I wonder which set of values they are being exposed to after the initial training period.  Will it be the ones they talk about on the website: Integrity, Innovation and Team Spirit?  Or, will it be what the tenured agents have told them and demonstrated the values to be… gruff, unfriendly and unhelpful?

I don’t think ANY employee at ANY job starts off with the intent to be mediocre or to live a set of underwhelming values.  But if we don’t actively model and enforce the right values, who knows where that journey will take them?

Thanks for reading!

Want to train your SUPERVISORS to role model the right behaviors so your new hires don’t fizzle out?  We’ve got just the thing…

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