Border Chaos Reveals Importance of Training

Last week, people around the world were impacted by President Trump’s decision to ground travelers from seven nations and block even some permanent U.S. residents (Green Card holders) from reentry. On Friday, a Washington State judge, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, said, “there’s no support” for the government’s argument that we have to protect the U.S. from people carrying passports from Iran, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya. As of Saturday, February 4, the government has stated that it will comply and lift the ban as a result of the Washington State ruling. While things may be now getting back to normal in the United States and around the world, the incident offered a sobering lesson about workplace policies and training. When major decisions are rolled out and individual employees must respond to new guidelines, they must first be offered comprehensive training on how to implement these guidelines; otherwise, major discrepancies can and will occur. Last weekend, they certain did and with devastating results.

Homeland Security and the Airline Sector Both Impacted

There were two sectors immediately impacted by President Trump’s sweeping reforms on immigration last week: Homeland Security and the airline industry .  As it turns out, few people in either sector were clear about how to respond and to what extent.

First, there were reports of American customs officials around the world expressing confusion about the orders. Most notably, this meant that while some Green Card holders were not permitted to board flights from outside the United States, others were permitted to board but then detained once arriving in the United States. As it turns out, the lack of clarity meant that permanent U.S. residents in this category experienced various and inconsistent treatment depending on the customs official with whom they dealt.  Airlines personnel, taking instructions from ill-informed customs officials, also ended up responding to the government’s guidelines in an inconsistent manner.

Lessons Learned

There is no question that people will be parsing the fallout of last week’s decision for many years to comes. In terms of training, the incident reveals at least a few key take aways that are applicable to much less sweeping policy changes in any context too.

  • Major policy decisions can’t be rushed: Policies are usually implemented only after careful consultation. Ideally, by the time a policy is implemented, it already has widespread buy in from the people who are charged with implementing it. In this case, there was no warning and no time for the people asked to enforce the policy to understand its ramifications or buy in to its intent.
  • Employees need clear guidelines to act in a clear manner: Without clear guidelines, one can only expect employees to do their best (e.g., interpret the policy to the best of their knowledge). Given the complexity of something like immigration issues, it was clearly misguided to ask customs officers and even airline customer service representatives around the world to interpret a policy with no background information.
  • Compliance is impossible without clarity: Without clarity, there can be no compliance. Compliance requires clarity and this typically means extensive training. In this case, there was no time for training at all. In short, it meant that any employee who had a question would have been left to look for guidance from their higher up who also had had no time to clearly study and explore the policy in question.
  • Collaboration is required to effectively roll out policy changes: Rolling out new policies works best when one collaborates with anyone who will be expected to enforce the policy. Collaboration is essential.
  • Asking employees to implement potentially discriminatory policies is bound to yield mixed results:   Perhaps the key take away from last week’s botched attempt to implement a new immigration policy was that asking employees to implement controversial policies, even discriminatory ones, is bound to yield mixed results. Many airline employees in the United States and abroad complained that they were placed in a situation where they were asked to implement a policy that in fact runs counter to their own organizations’ guidelines on customer service and discrimination.
February 4, 2017   Updated :February 8, 2018      

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