Military transition is hard. The experience of combat is even harder. Despite all of the challenges facing veterans in their career transition, they remain proud of their service and view it as a positive experience in their lives. It would be 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 bottom line: Military veterans provide benefits for your business, and I will show you how to get more. Your veterans are already good employees; I want to show you ways to make them into your next generation of business leaders.
Forget about suitability based only on rank, branch of service, and military occupation. Snap judgments miss hidden talent.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. Navy base in Japan to take charge of all the base’s retail stores.
An overseas military base is a small U.S. town transplanted onto foreign soil. There is a grocery store, dry cleaners, 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 dove in. He learned about the business, what the customers 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 customers 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 instantly added value back to P&G.
Here’s an employer to-do list.
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 suitability based on rank, branch of service, and military occupation. However, snap judgments miss hidden talent.
This actually happened to me as I began civilian life. I was coming back from Iraq as a special forces officer, a Green Beret, with a background focus on counterinsurgency, combat planning, and battlefield operations. I struggled to get employers 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: “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 a 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.
Coaching is directly tied to improvement and helps managers at all levels develop their employees.
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 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 the 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.
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 can and do translate into business use. Veterans possess unique skill sets in planning, post-completion problem analysis, the use of rehearsals, competitive analysis, team leadership, coaching, risk management, backup plans, war-gaming, and networking.
Here are three examples of easily translatable military skills and how they will work for business: war-gaming, performance coaching, and a backup planning process.
War-gaming. In the military, this 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? 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.
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 come together to 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 this process with a 20-plus-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 after only a few weeks at the company.
Backup plans. A favorite Special Operations planning process of mine is the use of backup 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 raid against Osama Bin Laden was a perfect example of a P-A-C-E process in action. In business, we often have a great primary plan, but maybe no backup 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.
3.) Challenge 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 good 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-ins to answer questions and check on progress.
Another good practice is allowing veterans to review what they have done and seek 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 of 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 adaptational assistance. Typically, adapting from a military culture to a business culture will be one of their greatest challenges. 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.
The bottom line: Military veterans bring great value to organizations. We want to create and grow military veterans into leaders in their business and in their community. Look beyond the rank and service of veterans to discover those valuable “hidden” talents, have veterans translate their military skills so they can improve your business, and provide them greater challenges so they emerge into greatness.
Veterans already do well for your company — challenge them to do great!
Chad Storlie is a retired lieutenant colonel with 20-plus years of active and reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units, and an OpsLens contributor. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the U.S. and was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. He is the author of two books. This article is from OpsLens and is used by permission.