Looking for Liquids, or Losing Sight of What Matters…

Steve Boese Bad HR, Employee Communications, Steve Boese

There is an entire line of snarky blog posts (a couple I am sure I have written myself), related to the themes of how excessive and verbose HR-imposed workplace policies are one of the primary reasons why still so many business leaders tend to view HR as the organizational police force, employees learn to dread their encounters with the function, and many HR professionals come to find they are as appreciated and respected as the Ferris Bueller felt about Principal Rooney.

It has become sort of a comical and recursive cycle in many organizations – a general undercurrent of anxiety and mistrust permeates the enterprise. Next in a reaction to this tension, some kind of catalyst engages with the system, it could be a new governmental regulation, a new technology deployed by IT, or a rogue employee that does something wacky. Finally the HR apparatus kicks into gear producing new procedures, rules, policies, communications, and so on. This set of new and mostly unsolicited set of interactions and artifacts feeds directly back into the angsty merry-go-round and like some nightmare from a bad county fair, keeps going around and around. The paint starts to chip and flake off the horses, and that mind-numbing carousel jingle never stops.Those that are able, eventually jump off. They have the options and capability to try another ride, one that seems to offer some kind of destination to strive towards, or failing that, at least a ride where the view changes once in a while. The ferris wheel doesn’t really take you anywhere either, but at least with each spin, if only for a few minutes, you have the chance to make it to the top to see what you might be missing. And it slows done enough at the bottom for most anyone to take a shot at bailing out.

It isn’t the fact that we in HR make, or feel like we have to make policies, that is the real problem. That fact that there are some rules and guidelines haven’t suddenly transformed a commune-like nirvana of fun and games like many of us imagine a Zappos or Google to be into some kind of latter-day boiler room or sweatshop. Policies and rules, like many other constructs in life are not the enemy. Incredibly stupid, ill-devised, and ‘don’t do much of anything to help us achieve our real goals’ policies are what turn modern theme parks of workplaces into crumbling relics of faded colors and burned out neon lights.

Policies like the US Transportation Security Administration’s ban on liquids and gels greater than 3oz in volume on commercial aircraft. Anyone that has traveled by air in the US in the last couple of years has certainly ran into this little rule, and while at least in theory the rule makes sense from a security perspective, at least one experienced observer, the blogger and airline pilot at Salon.com’s ‘Ask the Pilot’ blog wonders the rule’s true effect:

“The issue is that airport security has become preoccupied with nitpicky rules and protocols at the expense of actual security. I’m reminded of the line in the documentary “Please Remove Your Shoes,” spoken by FAA security agent Steve Elson. “They focus on all kinds of minutiae and crap,” Elson says of TSA, “rather than the items they need to. Are we looking for liquids, or are we looking for explosives?”

Classic example of losing sight on the real goals of the organization, the barriers to success, and the a kind draconian focus on protocols, process, and policies with a kind of ambivalence towards the policy’s true value and effectiveness, and whether or not it was really contributing to the overall mission – keeping travelers and the public safe. Please don’t kill me in the comments with explanations about how easy it is to create explosive material out of shampoo and hand gel, it is just an example that we are all familiar with. I’ve seen MacGyver too. Later in the Salon piece, we learn of a TSA test where the agents successfully spot and confiscate a water bottle, while letting a mock explosive device in the same casepass through security with no issues.If you spend time, energy, focus, and rewards looking for liquids (or your organization’s equivalent, like counting PTO hours, monitoring dress codes, or ensuring butts are in seats), well, you will develop a expert staff, a fine-tuned organizational culture, and a high-functioning ‘liquid finding’ capability across the organization.

You may or may not keep the planes safe.

So Mr. Sackett, is there a particular reason this container of leave-in conditioner is not in an approved plastic baggie?