News stories from the week of March 26, 2012 highlighted the Gulf War II veteran unemployment rates as well as the challenges facing all veterans as they transition from Combat to Peace and return to the workforce. Despite all of the challenges facing veterans, they remain proud of their service and view their service and combat experience as a positive experience in the lives. It would be too easy to talk about the challenges facing veterans.
Instead, we need to talk about the value that veterans and their military experience bring to business. My goal is to give you three items that will highlight the value that military veterans bring to business and government organizations. My bottom line: Military veterans have more benefit for your business and veteran employees are essential to your long term success. II will show you how to get more from military veteran employees by more fully utilizing their skills for your business. Military veterans are already good employees; I want to show you ways to make them into your next generation of business leaders.
Hiring veterans has been a hot tag line for years, but what remains to be explored is how organizations can fully benefit from applying the military experience that veterans bring. Let us look at a former US Navy Officer, A.G. Lafley. A.G. Lafley, the former Chairman and CEO of Proctor & Gamble, began his working career as a U.S. Navy Supply Officer stationed in Japan. When Lafley’s first assignment came, he was shocked. He was not assigned to a ship, a warehouse, or an air station. He was assigned to a small US Navy base in Japan to take charge of all the retail stores on the base. An overseas military base is a small US town transplanted onto foreign soil. There is a grocery store, dry cleaners, a bookstore, gas stations, and fast food restaurants. Nothing in Lafley’s military training had prepared him – he had no idea what to do. So, he just dove in. He learned about the business, what the customer’s wanted, how much inventory to have and when the bills needed to be paid. And what did Lafley do when he got to P&G? He dove in, learned what customer’s wanted, and so on. Lafley was successful at P&G for a multitude of reasons, but his experience turning around the concessions at the small Navy base in Japan was formative in how he could instantly add value back to P&G by adapting and applying his military experience. As Lafley, Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson, Hicks of Footlocker, Ryan of the Center for Creative Leadership and others have demonstrated that translated military skills and experience works well for business.
EMPLOYERS TO DO #1 –Look beyond a Veteran’s Rank, Branch of Service, and Military Occupation for Hidden Talents. When I initially look at a veteran’s resume, it is very easy even for me to make a snap judgment about a veteran’s suitability based on their rank, branch of service, and military occupation. However, snap judgments miss hidden talent. This even happened to me. I was coming back from Iraq as a Special Forces Officer, a Green Beret, with a background focus on counter insurgency, combat planning, and battlefield operations. I struggled to get employer’s to focus on the combined value of my business, military and combat experience to improve their companies. I had several informational interviews when interviewers lived vicariously through my stories of Baghdad, minefields in Bosnia, parachuting and fast roping. At the end of one interview, I was dismissed with a, “We don’t blow our competitors up.”
Businesses can easily miss the total value a veteran brings because of the huge disparity between their military skill sets and how the business Functions. For example, is there a relationship between a military sniper and a software quality engineer? Yes, No? What is a sniper? What is a software engineer? The point is that both are focused on initiative, identifying small changes, working alone and in a team, technical expertise, and a complete understanding of the environment in which they operate.
For employers to fully understand and capture a veteran’s skill sets, ask them to tell you a story of their most challenging day in the military. Have them paint you a picture of the conditions, what they were assigned to do, the problems they faced, and how they successfully completed the mission. As the veteran tells their story, look for instances of creativity, leadership, independence, initiative, and technical expertise. These “hidden” skills will lead you to a variety of potential positions and capabilities that you need in your organization. When you look for those “hidden” skills in veterans, you will find the person that reflects the leader that you want in your organization.
EMPLOYERS TO DO #2 – Make Veterans Translate Their Military Experience into Greater Value for Your Business. A great deal of a veteran’s military experience can be translated and applied to create better business operations and customer relationships. One of the problems is that most veterans do not understand that the vast majority of their military skills sets can and do translate into business use. Veteran’s possess unique skill sets in planning, post completion problem analysis, the use of rehearsals, competitive analysis, team leadership, coaching, risk management, back up plans, war-gaming, and networking. Here are three examples of easily translatable military skills and how they will work for business: (1) War Gaming, (2) Performance Coaching, and (3) a Back Up Planning Process.
(1) War Gaming. In the military, War Gaming is the process that tests and adapts battle plans against the full range of expected actions and reactions of the enemy. This is essentially a force-on-force game. I used War Gaming extensively in Iraq as I was planning simultaneous, night, helicopter insertions of multiple Special Forces teams into Southern Iraq. What would the enemy do if they heard helicopters? Could we fly different routes away from enemy locations to keep teams safe? How would we rescue a team if a helicopter made an emergency landing? As a battle plan is developed, military planners have a separate team role-play the “enemy” to ensure the draft plan is challenged against the full range of what the enemy will and can do. This process is continued until the plan is fully tested. Once the war game is complete, the draft plan is modified to ensure the enemy actions are mitigated. The competition is smart and capable; War Gaming ensures the best business plan survives and has the best chance of success. War Gaming is a simple and systematic process that requires no special tools and works well for new product introductions, running scenarios for price challenges, or opening a new retail location.
(2) Performance Coaching. The military loves performance coaching. In the military, performance coaching sessions occur every 30 to 60 days. A military member’s superior sits down in a private session and reviews the major events, the standards of performance, and how the military member performed against the standards. When an opportunity to improve is discovered, the superior and the military member together create a specific and actionable improvement plan to help the military member. Coaching is directly tied to improvement and helps managers at all levels develop their employees. I used the Performance Coaching process with a 20+-year employee at GE. At the end of the session, she thanked me with tears in her eyes for the attention and concern that I placed on her career even after only a few weeks at the company.
(3) Back Up Plans. A favorite Special Operations planning process of mine is the use of back up plans with the P-A-C-E planning process. P-A-C-E stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency and it is used to create four independent and effective ways to accomplish critical battlefield processes such as casualty evacuation, ammunition resupply, or departing an objective area. The recent raid against Osama Bin Laden was a perfect example of a P-A-C-E process in action. The US team had to enter their objective from the ground instead of landing on the roof and one of their primary helicopters crash-landed – not a good start to the mission! Without missing a beat, the team transitioned to their back up plans and quickly accomplished their mission. In business, we often time have a great Primary plan, but maybe no back up plans. With P-A-C-E, Special Operations teams ensure success because they plan and anticipate problems and find ways to surmount obstacles to ensure the mission is a success. Success is not by accident, it is planned. P-A-C-E is a low cost and simple process that works well for creating a robust supply chain or multiple sources for critical parts.
EMPLOYER TO DO #3 – Challenge Your Military Veteran Employees To Do More. Veterans live to be challenged. Military veterans leave the service to discover a greater range of opportunities and a broader range of challenges in both their personal and professional lives. Employers need to challenge military veterans with a range of business problems to discover all that veterans can do for their organization.
An example of a best practice is for an employer to create two lists of small and large business problems. Have the military veteran employees attack the small business problems in cross-functional teams with specific timelines and measured deliverables. Once you do this, step back, and let them solve these problems with initiative, resolve, and determination. As they successfully complete the small challenges, they are automatically training and adapting to be successful at the larger challenge you give them next. Schedule frequent check-in’s to answer questions and check on progress.
Initially, some veterans may need to be pushed to do more. For veterans, the military structures of rank, assigned duties, and delineated responsibilities will not be good guides for a world of business that embraces dynamic change and an ever adapting, and demanding, customer base. Veterans need to think of their place in business as if they are deployed in a remote and challenging location. Instead of thinking, “This is my role,” veteran employees must think, “What I can do today to create customer satisfaction, create cost savings, or create a new product for the company.” Veterans must challenge themselves to be great and not focus on how to be perfect. Challenge, push a veteran to be great, and they will amaze you.
Veterans are used to reviewing what they have done, receiving coaching for personal improvement, and seeking out additional training to improve their performance. Give veterans timely, specific, and actionable feedback in a private setting and a constructive tone. Listen to their suggestions how to improve the department’s operations, and give them additional training to improve their weak points. Some military veteran employees may need additional time for medical appointments to treat combat injuries as well as some adaptation assistance. Typically, adapting from a military culture to a business culture will be one of their greatest challenges to feel comfortable. Pair the military veteran with a co-worker (the “Battle Buddy” concept) from another department. This will give the military veteran employee an independent person to ask questions about the company’s culture and norms.
My goal was to give you three items that will highlight the value that military veterans bring to your organizations. I want the veterans that work and will work for you in the future to be your best employees. This accomplishes everything that we are here to do: create military veterans who are leaders in their business and in their community. Looking beyond the rank & service of veterans to discover those valuable “hidden” talents; having veterans translate their military skills so they can improve your business; and providing veterans greater challenges so they emerge into greatness. Veterans already do well for your company – challenge them to do great things!
Free Materials for Veterans to Aid Career Success and Translate Military to Business
Please visit the website to take advantage of the printed materials, videos, podcasts, and news stories:
Author, Combat Leader to Corporate Leader & Battlefield to Business Success
Combat To Corporate