Airport security is not an exciting topic. A for-your-own-good, bureaucratic, humiliating imposition which stands between you and duty free. I pass the time, worldly valuables in one hand, belt in the other and socks sparking static on the polypropylene carpet tiles considering how I’d improve the process.

Amazingly then, flying from Gatwick South Terminal, you’ll find a world class security experience. The process works well, the staff are courteous. You’re asked for feedback.

Someone has thought about the passenger flow, the best way to load and unload the scanners and to avoid bottlenecks. Goldratt would be proud. Impressed I stopped one of the staff – who, freed of shepherding angry passengers, had time for a chat – to ask which consultancy they’d employed to make the changes.

‘It was us’ she smiled. ‘Management gave us a security isle and let us get on with organising things how we thought they should be. Over the course of 3 months we tried different layouts and ideas – some worked and others didn’t. We measured the changes and focused on the good parts’.

Looking closely, you could see tell-tale markers – signs written with markers on masking tape, the feedback board a flip chart. Affordable, accessible and simple.

‘At the end of the process, we sat down, agreed a final layout and reconfigured the whole hall. It all works much better’.

The most remarkable thing was how proud and engaged in the changes she and her colleagues were. As co-designers of the system they felt shared ownership. Staff were empowered and jointly responsible for passenger experience and efficiency. Not fighting poor processes forced on them from on high. Flipping through the (open and transparent) flipchart feedback, I wasn’t the only impressed passenger. All achieved on a budget, CapEx limited to pens, masking tape and flip charts.

Taking small risks. Giving teams on the ground the tools to iterate. Finding space to try things. This approach led to a culture of incremental and unrelenting improvement. Driven by staff who feel valued, and reflect that when interacting with passengers.

A culture which is often missing from top down service organisations – like our own hospitals. The risk isn’t trying new ideas and giving staff space to fail, it’s not embracing that. Try replacing ‘passenger’ with ‘patient’ above. There is a lot to learn.


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