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…

Can you lead by other people’s values?

I am really looking forward to reading Joel Manby’s book, “Love Works”, as I think it will give some interesting insight into his leadership style and practices.  Plus, how often do leaders in the amusement industry write books like this.  Double whammy!

My bigger question, though, is how many people will try to apply all of the values that Joel discusses?

Here’s why I am asking… this is not the first, nor will it be the last, leadership book centered around a successful leaders’ tactics. In and of itself, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.  Like I said I am looking forward to reading it to see what makes Joel tick.  Where I believe there is a misstep is someone other than Joel trying to apply these values exactly as Joel does.

One of the principles that Joel discusses is using love in the workplace.  Not love the emotion, but love the verb.  Either way, I am sure there are people out there who:

  • Think this is a crazy notion and want no part of it
  • Think this is a crazy notion, but might just want to try it
  • Think it’s a good thought but have no idea how to actually do it
  • Already do this and see Joel’s perspective simply as reinforcement

Like Jan and Peter Brady, it’s the two in the middle I think we need to look out for. This is because they have the potential to adapt a value system that they really don’t believe in.  If it worked for Joel, it can work for everyone, right?  Not so much.

Values are funny things. They are developed over a lifetime and are not something we usually change on a whim. I’ve seen it over and over again where a very well intentioned leader will read a book and decide that they are going to adapt everything in that book to their business.  This ends up as a “flavor of the month” initiative that eventually fades away, just like the last one.

Think about how your personal values were formed.  Over many years, you have seen situations where you either say, “that’s good, we should keep doing that,” or ” that’s bad, we should stop.”  This eventually carved out what you feel is right and wrong, and where the gray area is.  Since everyone has experienced a different set of circumstances, each person has a slightly different value system.  And that’s okay.

Please don’t mistake my message as, “don’t read books (or blogs) and try to learn from them.”  To the contrary, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about others to see how they apply their values.  Then use the application, rather than the actual value, as your inspiration to move forward.

What are your values?  Are they different than the values of your company?

Thanks for reading!

About the author: Matt Heller values the value of valuable values. Or something like that.

W&D Undercover Boss: Herschend Family Entertainment

I hope all of my friends in the attractions “biz” got to see this week’s episode of Undercover Boss since it highlighted an amusement park company.  In the hot seat was Joel Manby, President and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, trying his luck with entry level jobs at various parks.

If you didn’t get to see it, click here.  We’ll wait.

Everyone back?  Good.

Like many episodes of UB, Joel finds people in his company that work hard, have great stories of survival and in some cases, want his job!  I particularly liked Albert, who pulled out his laptop to sport his latest Roller Coaster Tycoon creation!

What really struck me about this episode was Joel’s reference to values.  Herschend works on the foundation of Christian values, and I know many other companies have a set of guiding values that drive them as a company, and set an expectation of behavior for their employees. By what we got to see, the value system is alive and well at Herschend’s properties.

So the big question is not IF your company has a set of values or guiding principles, it’s whether or not those values are known by each employee and supported through all levels of management.

In a related story, yesterday Linda and I had a visit from a lawn care company.  The sales person would not enter the house until he put on his little protective shoe covers so he wouldn’t track dirt in the house.  He said, “I made the policy, I have to follow it.”

I think both these examples show that values can (and need) to be more than a poster on the wall, more than a wallet card, more than a power point slide in orientation.  That’s the easy stuff.  Instead, values have to live and breathe in each action of each employee.  They need to be tested, communicated, followed, understood, explained, and role modeled.  That’s the not-so-easy stuff.

We’ve all been in situations that test our commitment and understanding of our personal and professional values.  We’ve made tough, unpopular decisions that we KNEW were right, even though others may not understand them.  How many times does a wallet card really help in those situations?

The reality is that we often create these “learning aids” because we think people need to be reminded to do what’s right.  What REALLY influences that behavior is when employees see their leader and the people around them living up to the values that the company says it stands for.

A poster on the wall is just words, and what speaks louder than words?

What did you think?