In traveling this week, I encountered unexpectedly short lines at security, friendly TSA agents, and very little traffic for a Monday morning.  But I did have a few minutes to discuss airport security with those in line, and it finally dawned on me why we can’t effectively handle security without making people crazy.

It’s not about privacy, I think.  After all, my privacy is invaded on a regular basis by family, friends and, to a lesser extent, work.  No big deal.  They can go through my emails, my Internet usage, my wallet.  (OK, maybe just family on that last one.)  So why is there such a visceral reaction to TSA, who’s job is to keep us safe?  Trust.

I trust my family and friends with that information.  If we all really trusted our personal information and backscatter images to the government and TSA, and we knew deep down that it wouldn’t be used in an abusive way, would there be as big of an issue?  I suspect no.  It’s the potential invasion of privacy that is such an issue, but your privacy can’t be invaded if you welcome the visitor.

I think the answer for TSA and like agencies is not about explaining the why of what they do, but in building trust to the point we don’t ask why.  We just go along, trusting them to do right by us.  There’s a huge chasm to be crossed on that front, no doubt, but that is where I suspect the real traction is to be found.

Don’t tell us about separate rooms for image watchers, or spend time defending the pat downs of those in loose clothing.  I’ve seen a lot of travelers, and I don’t imagine it’s a lot of fun for you either.  But help people understand the options, the risks, what we can eliminate through these programs, and invest time and effort into some transparency to gain that trust.  Yes, there is a risk.  The more transparent you are, the more you expose the holes in the system for someone who wants to exploit them.  So don’t tell us everything.  Just enough to start tearing down walls and building some bridges.

The same applies for HR projects and programs, of course.  Every time an incentive program changes, I hear the same thing.  “HR doesn’t sit around and find ways to pay us more.”  Why do we change them?  Maybe cost cutting, but often it is done in the spirit of efficiency, incentivising new behaviors, or even correcting some past mistakes.  Why are changes met with skepticism?  Trust.

Why do you need to spend so much time explaining the slight increase in health insurance, when the company is turning a profit (which means costs could be lowered if the company really wanted to).  Why are people so resistance to wellness programs that are designed to help them with managing their most important asset (their health)?  Why do our own HR teams push back when we try to introduce new technology that will make their lives easier?  It’s all the same answer.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen R.M. Covey talks about how to build trust quickly through actions, not just words and the future hope of a good reputation.  It’s an excellent read, and one I think we could use in HR to start building a few bridges of our own.


  1. Dwane, don’t forget that people generally hate change. Doesn’t matter if it’s better or worse for them, they just hate it.

    That said, trust can definitely help, I think. Do you think most people trust their employers?

    • Agreed. I caught myself having a reflexive negative reaction to a change in one of our systems. I know the change will be for the better long term, but even as a “change professional” I wanted to resist.

      So yes, the natural resistance to change is an issue, but I think trusting those who are making the change helps. Do I think people trust their employers? I would assume there are different levels out there, and most relationships could use a bit more. Maybe that’s what all the hoopla about “engagement” should really focus on.

  2. I think there is a big problem with that strategy here. Transparency is good if you are going to provide reassuring information. Transparency doesn’t help much if you just speak and prove you are an idiot – rather than leaving your mouth shut and leaving some doubt as to weather you are. The policies they choose to enforce are on there face foolish. Being more transparent about that won’t help.

    Now if you are more transparent about that and then react to change foolish policies as people express concern that would help a great deal. But those at TSA chose instead to just pull out fear as an explanation why they should not be criticized.

    “Deming said “nobody gives a hoot about profits” as an explanation for why companies failed to adopted proven better management practices for decades. They might say they care about profits but their actions showed they cared more about other things. Today, TSA’s actions show the TSA doesn’t give a hoot about security, or liberty.”

    TSA has shown that they continually resort to fear as a retort to criticism of security theater. Most intelligent criticism of TSA is not saying “make us less safe by being less disrespectful” it is saying stop being disrespectful when it doesn’t help security and start using much more effective strategies to improve security. But all they do in response is explain that any criticism is an invitation to risky actions.

Lean HR is using WP-Gravatar

%d bloggers like this: