Last Monday I traveled overseas and, while at the airport in Miami, I observed the behavior of two people working there. One was a food stand attendant and the other one a security agent for the TSA (Transportation Security Administration).
The food stand attendant was taking a personal phone call while serving customers, holding the phone with one hand and reaching for the customers’ money with the other. In the meantime, the line kept getting bigger and customers were getting impatient. There were breadcrumbs and dirty napkins lying on the floor around her, the shelves were missing product and the whole place looked untidy and neglected.
When there were no more people on the line I decided to buy a bag of chips, but before I could hand her my money she just walked away, leaving the stand completely unattended for around three minutes. During that time, customers who wanted to pay left their food and walked away.
The TSA agent was completely different. This guy was walking through the crowd lined up before the security checkpoint, acting like a rock star, greeting everybody and making jokes: “How you doin’ today sir? OK? Good! And how about you ma’am? Good? I’m glad… Happy passengers, that’s what I want…. New York Jets? New York Jets? You gotta lose that cap, buddy!….How are you, sir?….. OK folks, if the guy in front of you is not moving, kick him! …..How you doin’ sir?” He would then pause for a few minutes and repeat the performance with another group of newly arrived passengers. He even had some cool jazz music playing close bye.
Going through airport security ranks high as one of life’s most dreaded experiences (up there with getting a root canal or watching politicians apologize in public for their character flaws). However, this guy alone, with his positive attitude and personal touch made the whole experience different and almost enjoyable.
I don’t think it’s a matter of money. The difference in salary between these two people can’t be more than a few bucks an hour, however, one cared and the other one didn’t. It’s a matter of character and pride.
This episode made me think about Jim Collins’ remarks in his classic book Good to Great , when he talks about the need to “get the right people on the bus” first. What he means by that is that people are more important than org. charts and job descriptions, and that you should make sure that you hire the right people before you do anything else.
He is right, and under that perspective the TSA guy would get hired over the food stand attendant any time.