I believe in business systems. I have experienced time and time again how an effective system can create efficiencies and grow a business.
But I have also seen times where ineffective systems become an epic fail.
The Intent of a Good System
The purpose of a good business system is to create consistencies in an organization that lead to efficiencies, better production, and increased customer satisfaction.
As I travel throughout the United States, I often frequent the same stores. Whether it be Chipotle, Target, or Comfort Suites, I enjoy frequenting the same places because I know what to expect.
I even find consistency in the culture of employees. For example, I see common traits of employees at the dozens of Chipotles I have visited all over the country: they are often very diverse, but always hard working and fast. The only consistent downfall? They value speed over customer service - I can rarely get a smile out of a Chipotle employee.
But this consistency in employees is a direct result of Chipotle’s systems in hiring their teams. They have figured out a method to ensure that you get the same customer experience in any Chipotle throughout the country.
That is amazing. And that is what a good system should do.
When Systems Fail
The problem is that systems don’t always produce the intended result.
For example, I doubt that Chipotle planned to breed employees who aren’t friendly. While their system is designed to keep the line for fresh, natural food moving quickly - a very difficult task indeed - a result of this system is that the employees really aren’t that friendly. I am not saying they are unfriendly, they just are not friendly - like Starbucks, for example.
Therefore, a successful system needs more than just an upfront design. It needs monitoring and tweeting to function at full capacity.
A Huge System to Operate
As I travel fairly frequently, I have always been intrigued with how the TSA has been able to build systems that keep hazards and dangerous people off of planes.
The main system for this is the security-check process that passengers go through when flying through a major airport.
What is interesting to me, is that I have seen several inconsistencies that I have internally questioned over the years. For example, some airports have full body scanners, while others only utilize metal detectors.
This just doesn’t make since as the security of our air system is only as good as the weakest link.
But regardless the type of scanner, the end result is that harmful objects are being uncovered and prevented from boarding our planes.
But there is another break in the system - it is called our constitutional right.
Whenever you fly, you have the option to opt-out of the body scanners and opt for the alternative - a manual pat-down.
As I am a fairly health conscience person and worry about unnecessary radio waves on my body (harmful or not - as the TSA assures me), I have made it a habit to opt out of the security scans. Plus, it is my right and I am quirky like that.
The Epic System Fail
Opting out of the airport security scanners really isn’t a big deal - it takes about three minutes longer and the process is usually more uncomfortable for the TSA agent than it is for you.
But on a recent trip home after speaking in Kalispell, Montana, I experienced a kink with the airport security system.
At least this kink didn’t involve someone getting through security with a weapon, but this kink involved me going through the process.
I had naturally opted out of the security scan before I realized that their scanners were metal detectors - the kind used in court rooms, schools, and even Target - rather than a full body scanner which utilizes more powerful radio waves.
I decided not to reverse my decision as I thought that might actually be more problematic than just going through the alternative pat-down process.
The pat down started as it usually does - they took me to the side, checked my luggage, and led me to a designated pat down area. Fortunately for me it was about six feet from the glass window that separated the security checkpoint from the waiting room - that was positioned to directly face me.
I have been through many pat downs in the past and am accustom to how the process works. You stand with your feet shoulder width apart and raise your arms to your side with your palms up. This is followed by a quick pat down and you are done after the agents gloves are tested for hazardous residue.
But this agent appeared to be an over-achiever - he was extremely thorough in his job.
Now, I really can’t complain as I had been concerned in the past that some agents didn’t do a good enough job. In fact, three days before on my way to Kallispell, the pat down was so poorly done that I thought I could have smuggled a baby on board.
But this guy was thorough. The only problem was that when he came to my lower left hip, he stopped. And spent two minutes investigating this “unknown object."
He even called someone else over for a second opinion.
They were absolutely convinced that I was trying to hide something. I tried to explain, without being suspicious, that I didn’t have anything under there.
“Sir, there is definitely something under there,” was the only reply I got.
So there I was, standing with my arms held out to my side while a crowd of spectators six feet away, behind a wall of glass, got to experience an exciting show.
I was eventually led to a “private screening” room where, yes, I received a strip search.
The funny thing about this was that the security agent who had said there was “definitely something under there” was completely surprised to find nothing. In fact, I have never seen anyone have their confidence deflated so quickly.
I actually felt bad for the guy.
How Did the System Fail?
For me, I have to wonder why the system failed. This guard was clearly taking his duties one step too far while just a few days earlier on my trip into Kalispell, the pat down seemed so poorly performed that I probably could have hid a baseball bat on my person.
I really don’t blame this guard for our mutual experience. He was just doing what he thought was required of his job. No more and no less.
But why did the same system provide two completely outcomes when I went through the exact same process of opting-out?
Because the system was not a well oiled machine.
The system clearly allows for some discretion in how thorough the job is performed.
The bottom line is that the system is not refined enough to avoid my completely unnecessary strip search. Had they refined their system better - specifically with better testing and training - these variations in the process could be reduced.