I hadn’t meant to talk about the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today in my MBA class.  Our assigned topic was organizational learning and I had a full slate of material to cover.  As I got to the point about using “learning moments” as they arise, I realized I couldn’t not talk about the TSA.  This is a clear learning moment.  The TSA seems to have taken a uni-dimensional, silver bullet, approach to the security process.  My point in class, supported by some excellent student comments, is that you have to manage complex systems as a system.  Instead, the TSA seems to have used a parachuted implementation method around the new security checkpoint procedures and are living through the current backlash as a result. The TSA’s safety expertise is greater than mine (and the pundits talking about the issues). As stated on the TSA website:

We use layers of security to ensure the security of the traveling public and the Nation's transportation system. Because of their visibility to the public, we are most associated with the airport checkpoints that our Transportation Security Officers operate. These checkpoints, however, constitute only one security layer of the many in place to protect aviation. Others include intelligence gathering and analysis, checking passenger manifests against watch lists, random canine team searches at airports, federal air marshals, federal flight deck officers and more security measures both visible and invisible to the public.

Where I question the TSA’s actions is in the implementation of the overall approach.  Implementing security measures impacts the whole flying system.  To effectively implement a new approach requires a full evaluation of all the stakeholders and then consideration of what each will need to give and take in the situation to come to an “negotiated implementation.”  The issues on the table for this negotiation include stakeholder privacy issues, depth of personal background checks, age, radiation exposure, etc.  Given the comments on websites and articles related to the issues, and even Capt. Sully Sullenberger’s (Miracle on the Hudson) public statements, all the stakeholders’ needs have not been addressed.  Sullenberger says, “We are - and would like to be considered - trusted partners in that important security mission." My students and I use a 5-point framework to make sure we’ve considered at least the biggest issues in any complex organizational question: People, Technology, Policies & Procedures, Organizational Structure, & Context.  While I’m sure the TSA has been touching on the interrelationships amongst these dimensions, they haven’t shared their efforts in a way that makes all of us part of the solution. Here’s to the TSA taking a step back to think about alternatives that could be at least as effective.  I have a Clear card and would happily pay for a deeper security check if I could then bypass some of the security line.  I suspect there are ways that allow us to make personal choices about how we demonstrate our safety. (Cheers to the TSA for their decision last night to allow the pilots to bypass the scanner and pat-downs.) Watch the TSA blog for more explanations of the different rules and procedures.  For example, no, you do not have to take your ereader or netbook out of your carry-on!