How TSA Can Fix the Problems That Make Air Travel Suck

How TSA Can Fix the Problems That Make Air Travel Suck

Fly the sorta friendly skies? If you’ve stood in line at a TSA check-point lately, you know the pain is real.  Long lines, unfriendly agents, and baffling processes (why are most of the check-point gates closed??) have lead to an astronomical 18,000 complaints every year.

TSA’s administrator – Paul Neffenger – was asked by Today Show Hosts’ Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie if a private company would perform better.  His response: “You need federal oversight of the system to ensure consistency and high standards.”

When federal inspectors walk into an airport and the safety tests fail 95% of the time – that’s consistency with very low standards.

The fact that 117 screeners leave every week is no coincidence.  TSA’s inability to attract and retain talent is what has lead to an absolute failure on TSA’s part. This is proof that organizational success (or failure) starts with your human capital – your people doing the job.

How can the Agency grow when constantly reacting to culture issues like poor processes and leadership and high employee turnover? How can they actually focus on building a stronger, more productive Agency when they can’t attract and retain quality talent?

It’s so bad that New York City airports are considering going with private contractors to fix the problem. Airlines are rolling out cots.

It’s no secret that finding good talent is a challenge everyone faces.  But losing 117 of your employees every week is absolutely unacceptable on any level. If TSA were a for profit organization they would be out of business! This is yet another example of Government dysfunction.  (I know.  I’ve worked within the Federal Government – including with TSA.)

Whether you are TSA or another Government Agency, a non-profit, or for-profit organization – there are ways to reduce employee turnover.  The average cost to replace 1 person is 1.5 times their annual salary.  Add in that roughly 70% of employees are unhappy – and reducing employee turnover may be more important than you realize.

So how can you increase employee retention and reduce turnover?

Open lines of communication

Create a culture of transparent and open communication. Maintaining open lines of communication between leadership and employees goes a long way to increasing employee commitment. Employees need opportunities to feel heard. Allowing for interdepartmental communication – reducing silos – also makes employees feel less isolated. Allow for employee feedback – and act on that feedback. Open communication also helps employees see how their work contributes to the bigger picture.

Recognize, recognize, recognize

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – recognize, recognize, recognize! People have a fundamental human need to feel valued, heard and appreciated – particularly when they feel they’ve done a great job. If you’re not sure how to recognize for a job well done – ask your people. Give those who deserve it rewards and recognition they want. Without an understanding of your people, behaviors, and what engagement and rewards strategies work best for your culture, reducing turnover can be even more difficult.

Fix your processes

Your people are just as likely as your customers to get pissed off by poor or redundant processes. If you want to reduce turnover, develop transparent and easy to follow processes – and train your people on how to execute them. You want to design processes that help bolster a high performance culture – not inhibit one.

Lead by example

According to one study – 80% of employee turnover resulted from the environment created by a manager as opposed to the company at large. So it’s critical to work closely to make sure there’s a consistent open line of communication between employees and managers, and that managers are working collaboratively and positively with their employees to build trust and reduce turnover. Trusted relationships are key. Leadership should be authentic, approachable, honest, and supportive.

On-the-job training

For employees to remain engaged and committed, they need to feel they have the skills to do their job. To help determine what type of training may be needed, think about what types of knowledge and learning opportunities can help them better perform their jobs? Most employees don’t want to perform poorly, they often just haven’t been provided with the training needed. Ask what types of knowledge and learning opportunities they feel they require for success? What will make them feel challenged as individuals? Collect the data and act on it. Offer options based on employee input. One of the quickest ways to reduce turnover and increase performance is to increase knowledge and skills and increase engagement.

The moral of the story is this – the people who work for you are your biggest asset.  Your human capital is how you operate, innovate, provide a great customer experience and deliver on mission. Without trained and engaged people – you are nothing.  So pay attention to your people. Don’t pay lip service to change.  And make it a priority to reduce turnover.  Or else suffer the consequences…18,000 complaints and climbing…or being replaced entirely!

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Effectiveness & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable. Organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business. 

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