My TSA Customer Service Story

My friend Mark Stelzner, an HR consultant, travels a lot for his job. Because he spends so much time in airports, he often posts hilarious – and kind of sad – stories on Facebook about people and their airport behavior. Like this one:

 But one thing I have never seen Mark post about is similar strange and/or obnoxious behavior from TSA agents. Others, like my frequent flyer husband, confirm that while TSA agents may not always be chatty and effervescent, they are generally respectful, well-behaved, and take a lot of crap from members of the flying public who are the real behavioral problems.

So why does the TSA get such a bad rap? When I posted about having a great experience with TSA in Detroit recently, at least one Facebook friend thought I was joking. Others were skeptical. Here’s what happened:

I tried to return to Florida from Detroit with one carry-on bag and one small under-the-seat item, just like the rules say. When my bags went through x-ray, a TSA agent grabbed my carry-on and waited for me to get through the scanner to where he was standing at the end of the conveyor.

“You have 3 jars in your bag. What’s in them?” was his question.

I smiled and said, “Jelly. Preserves.” I said it with a smile because I was absolutely confident that you could bring food through security. After all, my meat processor husband never checks his bag, which often contains odd food items like corned beef, pastrami, or salami. Once he brought 5 pounds of bacon to me in Florida in his carry-on.

But Kevin, the TSA agent, explained to me that jelly, jam, and preserves violated their “no liquids/gels” policy, an idea which had never even occurred to me. Shampoo and toothpaste, yes! I had my little quart bag full of 2-3 ounce containers out and x-rayed. But Michigan sour cherry preserves and cherry butter? Not in my wildest.

The offending items

Kevin apologetically insisted that I had to check my bag. But instead of leaving me to handle the issue on my own,  he walked my bag (and me) back to the front of security, then moved the rope line so I could quickly get to the Delta check-in desk. When I was finished, I just walked back up to the front of security where Kevin was waiting for me. He escorted me back through x-ray and the scanner, pushing me up to the front of all of the lines and staying with me until I cleared security. He was pleasant and professional the entire time.

So why do people complain about the TSA? Because they pat down grandmas and children? If they only patted down Arabic-looking men, wouldn’t they be racist and stereotypical? Wouldn’t you complain if some nut case sacrificed their small child and blew up a plane because TSA never searched kids? Let’s face it, people do scary and awful things to their children sometimes. I’m a grandma, and I have been patted down several times. You know what? I’m still here.

I was breaking the rules, even if it didn’t enter my menopausal brain while I was packing. But when I was called out on my error, I was polite and humble with the TSA agent, and he was extraordinarily kind and accommodating with me.

So the next time you are inclined to TSA-bash, think about that Facebook post at the top of the page, and remember how many thousands of people like this the TSA sees every single day. Then remember my experience with Kevin Goins in Detroit, and wonder if you could possibly do that job any better.

(Thoughts or comments? Want to share a TSA experience? Go for it.)



We Get The Laws We Deserve

When an employer calls the employment lawyer, it’s usually to say, “I want to [insert questionable hr behavior]. Can I?”

Of course, what they really mean is “may I do it?”, and what they are really asking is, “Is what I want to do legal?”

The employment lawyer usually answers, “it depends,” and then proceeds to ask the client a number of questions about the factual situation, and gives the client a brief discourse on the relevant law.

Given that attorneys and accountants are the most valuable business partners that many businesses (particularly small businesses)  have, I think that “it depends” is the wrong answer in a vast majority of cases. The better answer is asking the client “why do you want to do that?”

Let’s face it – we get the laws  we deserve. We have anti-discrimination employment laws against certain protected classes because of a history of employment discrimination against those classes. More classes will be added, and more laws created, because discrimination continues. We have laws against retaliatory discharge because too many employers fired people who squealed, instead of fixing the problem being squealed about. We have wage and hour laws because too many employers will undervalue and overwork people who are desperate to feed themselves and their families.

So the next time a client calls and asks, “I hate gay people, and I don’t want to ever hire one. Is that legal?”, I am begging employment lawyers to be good business partners and community citizens, and not give  a discourse about the state of anti-gay discrimination legislation in your jurisdiction. Instead, explain to the client why taking a stance against hiring an entire class of population is a poor business practice in general, and how that business practice is not in the best financial interest of the client.

Do this for every questionable employment practice you are asked about. It will save you, and the client, from having to deal with the law that will inevitably follow.

[Author’s note 07/21/11 – Congress introduced a bill on July 18, 2011 that would make the unemployed a protected class by preventing hiring discrimination against them. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;-)]

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HRevolution and SHRM – Beauty and the Beast

Every year around this time there is a discussion among my online Human Resources friends about whether to join or renew membership in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

This disagreement exists because many in the online HR community think SHRM is old-fashioned, out of touch, and fails to deliver real value for the dues charged. In fact, the fine HR pros over at Fistful of Talent are so anti-SHRM that they considered holding their own alternative event.  So what prompted SHRM to sponsor HRevolution, an alternative HR event that is full of what China Gorman coined “HR activists”?

Good question.

Last year, SHRM approached the HRevolution 2010 planning committee late in the planning stages, seeking a small sponsorship. It was late when they came on board, and their presence at the event was somewhat limited. Last month, at the 2011 event, SHRM was a much greater presence, even sending Curis Midkiff, their Social Media Strategist, to attend.  According to Curtis, SHRM supports HRevolution because the event offers us an opportunity to participate in an event that brings together with a diverse cross-section of the HR community who are passionate about the profession and are working in various capacities to shape the future of HR.”

To show their commitment to the HR activists that are the heart and soul of HRevolution, SHRM gave away, by means of a general door-prize drawing, two full-access social media passes to their huge national conference in Las Vegas next month. In addition to full session access, the pass allows the holder to access the social media lounge with WiFi, where social media influencers can gather to tweet, post videos and blogs, and connect. At the time the winning names were drawn, those  passes were worth at least $1,400.

I thought this was an incredibly gutsy move on SHRM’s part. They had no idea whose name they were going to draw, and they could have been inviting an anti-SHRM wolf into their chicken coop. In my view, this is evidence that SHRM knows that they have work to do to make themselves relevant to those that are working to shape the future of HR, and are talking some small steps to do so – and there is nothing at all wrong with small steps. As  Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman said in song:

Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Just a little change
Small to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast.

For the record, I won one of those passes to SHRM 11. Needless to say, I promptly renewed my membership, and I am looking forward to watching the Beast try to transform back into royalty.

HRevolution – Rants and Raves

Mark Stelzner as Donald Trump - sort of

Back in March I did a post following a SHRM conference called Rants and Raves.  Since I have no desire to re-invent the wheel, and I find that the title is the hardest part of my blog to write,  I am going to take the easy way out and offer this  HRevolution version.  This time, though, the rants and raves are not mine – at least not until the end.  These are comments made directly to me by some of the attendees, and not based on anyone’s blog post or tweet.


NOT ENOUGH TIME BETWEEN SESSIONS FOR DISCUSSIONS/NETWORKING/CONVERSATIONS – This was by far the most prevalent and consistent comment I received.  People did not want to miss the sessions, but they wanted time to start and continue substantive conversations.  The tweet-ups, with a party-like atmosphere, were good for meeting and greeting, but they wanted quieter time for serious stuff, too.  When asked, people were willing to attend a 2-day session in order to rectify this.

NOT ENOUGH SPACE – Several people thought that Catalyst Ranch, while fun and funky, was not large enough for the attendees to find spots outside of the sessions to talk or even break out into a smaller group.  A related comment was that there were just too many people, making the sessions a little too large for comfortable discussion.

GENERAL SESSION/TRACK GRIPES – Some people wanted more topics lead by working HR practitioners and directly relevant to daily HR functions.  Some wanted fewer sponsor/consultant/non-practitioner speakers and facilitators. While many of the people I spoke with felt some uneasiness with the sessions, they did not articulate their feelings or dissatisfaction as well in this area (unlike the time and space rants).


EVENT PLANNING AND LOGISTICS – As a member of the planning committee, it is almost embarrassing to admit that this was the number one rave I received. People were quick to recognize the work involved and seemed happy with the food, tweetups, transportation, information, and cupcakes.

CHICAGO – Even though there are rumblings on Twitter about having a future HRevolution in Hawaii or Las Vegas, many attendees commented to me how perfect the Chicago location was for them from a transportation and travel standpoint.  They liked Chicago and the choices it afforded them.

CONNECTIONS MADE – Many people came specifically for the opportunity and ability to meet others and extend connections with online friends and acquaintances.  While some wished they had been able to do more, many were enthusiastic about the connections they did make.

Now that I have reported on the most frequent rants and raves made by attendees (to me), I am going to indulge myself  just a little and give you a personal rant and rave (just one each!) because I can only shut up for so long. 😉


There have been a lot of blog posts and tweets about HRevolution.  Some were positive, some were not. Fair enough.  I get the distinct impression, though, that many people made their feelings known only through a blog post or a tweet. No personal contact with, or email or phone call to, a planning committee member – even though contact information for every committee member was given to every participant. Was this you?  It makes me wonder if some people actually listened to some of the messages that were given about the value of connection and communication.  If you have something to say about HRevolution – good or bad – say it on your blog or on Twitter, but say it directly to the people who brought you HRevolution, too.  You can’t have influence and credibility in 140 characters,  so make a meaningful connection and help HRevolution – and yourself – move forward.


I was a very small part of a talented and dedicated group of people who helped bring HRevolution to life.  I learned much about effective collaboration and valuable teamwork from this experience, and I have to thank Trish McFarlane, Ben Eubanks, Crystal Peterson, Steve Boese, Mark Stelzner, and Jason Seiden for allowing me to be a part of this team. I am raving about all of them!


I chose not to personally comment on the rants and raves of the attendees, because I want to know what YOU think!  Were you there?  Do you agree with anything?  Nothing?  Do you have other experiences that could help make an event like this better for everyone?

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HRevolution – The Future of HR

Saturday afternoon the gloves came off.

The last session of the HRevolution un-conference, introduced in my previous blog, was called “The Future of HR”.  It was facilitated by the incomparable Mark Stelzner, whose admitted purpose was “to be provocative and shake the room up a bit.”  His mission was well accomplished, and the passionate discussion was described by @KristaFrancis on Twitter: Great minds *don’t* think alike and that’s a good thing.  Mark summed up the discussion on his blog, but I want to focus on this particular statement:

There was a great discussion on how people need to quit their HR jobs if they are that miserable. In other words, stop complaining and lamenting your non-strategic role and instead find a company that values your contribution.

That “call to action” has been repeated since on blogs (here ), and the HR Happy Hour blog talk radio show.


Why does it pain me to hear and read that people who want to make a difference should just quit their jobs and go elsewhere? Because it’s a strategy that’s far too over-simplified, and the consequences of failure are too dangerous for that simplification.  I speak from personal experience.

My Personal History

I come from a small (less than 50 employees) food processing/manufacturing plant.  My husband and his partner own the business.  When I began working there, no one knew exactly what my role was going to be.  I fell into an HR function almost immediately, because there was NO HR function there at all.  I started learning, and I made myself a HR Manager/Generalist.  I had a seat at that strategic table, usually at the head.  I made those P&Ls sing.

So why did I leave in June 2008?  Because I had a nagging feeling that there was more evolving to be done, and I couldn’t do it where I was.  There is only so far you can go in a really small company before some of the work becomes redundant, and some becomes impossible. So I quit (read: no unemployment benefits) and went looking for a company that would “value my contributions”.

It’s now November 2009 and I have yet to find that company.  Telling a recruiter or a hiring manager that I left my job because “I needed new challenges” makes them hang up on me.  Layoffs and downsizings create sympathy, self-indulgence does not.

I’m lucky – my husband still owns the company and has a job, so I still have sufficient funds to go to un-conferences and listen to people tell me to do what I’ve already done.  But suppose I was a sole breadwinner with kids to support and a mortgage to meet?  That strategy would have placed a lot of other people in jeopardy.  Is Laurie Ruettiman’s philosophy is the better one? She says, ” You get a paycheck. Be happy.”

Going Forward

By sharing that with you, I want to emphasize a point that was touched on at HRevolution but not sufficiently embraced: the enlightened HR group that we are a part of is a very tiny minority of the entire HR population.  The solutions and suggestions we propose inside of our “HR echo chamber”  will not be embraced by them  and will often be actively resisted.  We need to help others examine themselves and their roles to see how they can evolve and revolutionize, even if circumstances and paychecks keep them in their positions.  A large majority of HR pros don’t even know that people and technology exist to help them make this journey.  In other words, they don’t read our blogs.  Until a very short time ago, I was one of those people.

When Alicia Arenas asked us in a video to leave HRevolution with a commitment to spread the message, she mentioned college students and local SHRM chapters as examples of avenues to spread our enlightenment. Let’s collectively think of more, and start an outreach program, because we will not succeed without  converting others. With that in mind, I am picking up the flag of  HRevolution and making this commitment:

I will use social media, personal connections, and any other soapbox that is available to me to encourage, aid, and advise HR Pros and other business professionals to embark on a course of personal development that will expand their knowledge and engage and enlighten others.

By doing this, I hope to move past the idea that HR people should just be happy to get a paycheck.  The people I will try to reach may not be able to leave their companies, but they may be able to avoid doing everything “The Company Way.”  Viva la revolution!

The Company Way