Last week I was traveling back from Montana and had the first flight out at 5:30 am. I arrived at 4:30 am, checked my bag with the airline and headed to security for screening.
The Missoula, MT airport isn’t very big by today’s airport standards and has precious few of the annoyances of larger metropolitan airports, or so I thought…
As I and 1 other person are waiting for the TSA employees to arrive (even they didn’t have to be there at 4:30 am!) and get set up to conduct their screenings, a young TSA employee came over to us, grabbed the strap to close off the entry into the line and then told us we would have to walk through the maze to get back to the front of the line so she could begin the screening process.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like exercise as much as the next person, but sometimes you just have to ask yourself, “Does this make sense?” I looked around the deserted room and thought, “this is bureaucracy at its finest”. The employee’s actions were, by definition, wasteful and inefficient. There were TWO (2) of us in line. As a matter of fact the entire airport probably only had 20 people in it including all the employees. It was 4:30 am!
Although it was a small, community airport, early in the morning with no one in line, she couldn’t just put the strap up behind us and go on. No, that wouldn’t be following policy – she and we, as passengers, had to follow protocol, no matter how senseless it was, and walk through the maze to get back where we started. Only now the strap was securely in place to direct the crowds to come.
A lack of critical thinking skills and even compassion is rampant in today’s organizations. Earlier this year, the mother of a special needs child experienced a similar compliance culture on United Airlines when the senior flight attendant refused to use personal judgment (which was within her discretion) and allow the child to sit on her mother’s lap (as she had been allowed to do many times before). Check out the story and video here.
Are your organization’s actions based on compliance or common sense? Why do you and your organization do the things you do? Do you have any idea or are you “just following policy”? When things aren’t “by the book” do you and your employees have the critical thinking skills and confidence to solve problems and make decisions or are you just mindlessly “following the policy”? Sooner or later this compliance culture will stifle innovation and creativity and you’ll be wondering what happened to your competitive advantage.