Written by Mission Next Consulting
The doctoral dissertation that inspired Mission Next showed that Human Resource leaders see the value in hiring and retaining veterans but don't have the staff or funding to accomplish this goal. All of the HR leaders we interviewed expressed a desire to recruit military officers to enable their organizations to capitalize on the veteran's leadership skills and experience. They recognized the talents that veterans could bring to their organizations. The HR leaders said if they had additional recruiters and funding, they would undoubtedly invest the time and resources to seek out former service members to increase leadership capacity within their organizations.
What do these HR leaders see in veterans that set them apart from other candidates? Here are six reasons why spending extra time and money to recruit and retain veterans could be extremely valuable to your organization.
Members of the military are often challenged with learning new skills and concepts at a pace that outmatches most civilian organizations. Time and time again, they prove their ability to absorb large amounts of information and translate that data into action. One of the HR leaders shared a story about a candidate he had just met and how the veteran was able to quickly adapt and absorb information: "he's coming out of the military and using his education benefits to get a mechatronics degree." He continued: "we have seen a pattern, at least in the technical areas, that [veterans] do well, and perform the job well, because of the amount of training they complete. It's every bit as good, if not better, than what they're able to get in the civilian world."
Additionally, veterans will join your organization with transferrable skills that have been tested in real-world – and sometimes high-intensity – situations. It may take a conscious effort for HR leaders to translate a veteran's military skills into the civilian qualifications. This extra effort can pay off when you see how the veteran's training and experience can enhance the organization's productivity and culture.
Even when HR leaders have experience with only a few veterans, they were able to articulate how they recognized differences. During the research process, one interviewee commented about "the biggest cultural change occurred when we got a new CEO who was a Captain in the Army." She continued discussing his desire to create team players by saying, "he brings a lot of military perspective and approach to the way we operate." She could tell that it was something that's ingrained in service members from their very first experiences in the military. The new CEO was constantly thinking about what was best for the team. They implemented leadership development activities because he wanted to improve how they functioned as a group. Many veterans are on the leading edge of how they approach teamwork and have the potential to change an entire organizational culture based on these principles.
Another HR leader offered a similar perspective when he said, "In the last couple months, we hired a supervisor who is a vet as part of our production department. We've been amazed at how quickly he took what he had, even if it wasn't 100%, and ran with it. He asked more questions and exceeded the plan that he was given." These attributes played a role in how the Human Resource leaders discussed employer preferences to hire veterans. Every Human Resource leader said they valued the work ethic of service members and believed they possessed positive traits that would make them a good fit.
One other value that was mentioned during the research was integrity. Many veterans are accustomed to working diligently to get results. Even security clearances are a sign of integrity based on the process that grants those clearances. Employers should discuss how to maximize these attributes in their veteran populations and determine what roles might be the best fit for these candidates who demonstrate high integrity.
Along this same line of thinking, most veterans are extremely conscious of health and safety standards. It makes sense. Veterans receive extensive training on health and safety programs so they can take care of themselves and others in their unit. They are accustomed to a drug-free workforce (that is regularly tested for compliance) and they have spent years maintaining a high standard of personal health and fitness. This can all easily translate into an employee that is aware of his or her surroundings, cares about the well-being of colleagues, and continually looks to improve the health and safety of the workplace.
The dissertation research showed that HR leaders and service members held common beliefs that veterans are generally calm under pressure, assertive, strategic thinkers, dedicated, goal oriented, and direct. One HR leader talked about specific qualities that she saw in her employees that were former members of the military "High work ethic. Mission oriented. Great sense of urgency. Committed to the cause." The phrase "mission oriented" stood out during many of the dissertation interviews.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has created a sizable list to define what it means to be mission oriented. Some of these items include setting high standards, not quitting or accepting defeat, being disciplined, following rules, leading a team effectively, and motivating team members. The agency also explains how "understanding this mission-oriented approach may help you understand veterans. As an employer or supervisor, you can benefit from having an employee with this kind of mission-oriented approach." It is recommended that civilian employers make the veteran's mission clear to him or her by explaining the task, why the task is important, and what is expected for quality completion of the task. Finally, they advise to "be clear about who has responsibility for different parts of the task."
It's important to understand that leadership training in the military happens in a carefully planned series of progressive trainings that provide both classroom and hands-on experiences. It takes up more time and is more expensive than almost any civilian organization spends on similar experiences. HR leaders and recruiters can also benefit from learning about how much responsibility members of the military accept, even at relatively low levels in the military structure. For example, the rank of First Lieutenant (O-2) in the U.S. Army can be reached within 2 – 3 years of officer commissioning. Yet, that service member can supervise up to 150 soldiers. In other words, that's immediately comparable to a middle level manager at most large civilian organizations – maybe higher.
The research for the dissertation supported how service members have enhanced leadership experiences over their civilian counterparts. Anders (2008) found that civilian managers typically manage up to 12 employees. But in the military, Lieutenants and Captains (O-1 to O-3) often manage up to 190 employees – almost 15 times more employees than their civilian equivalents. Civilian Directors generally manage groups of managers and focus mainly on task attainment (Anders, 2008), while military officers between the ranks of Major and Colonel (O-4 to O-6) sometimes manage up to 5,000 employees. These comparisons can help employers understand what veterans bring into the workforce, even when their resume or application isn't clear in this area.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as "an ongoing professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses, or organizations. Through the process of coaching, clients deepen their learning, improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life." Coaching is an iterative process that encourages the coachee to see and appreciate their true self, understand how they see others, and gain awareness of how others see them. Many veterans have experience in both coaching and being coached. Civilian organizations will likely get a solid return on any coaching investments as they work to get the most out of any transitioning service members.
The research in the dissertation study suggests that work culture plays a significant role in determining whether a military officer stays past the first 24 months of employment. In cases where the military officers found a good cultural fit, they indicated that they would endure a significant amount of friction in the workplace before they would leave. Some organizations struggle in being able to understand what a veteran is actually saying (understanding the lingo), and the veterans themselves struggle to explain what they actually did for a living. This communication problem can cause friction that can impact the veteran's ability to assimilate into their new work culture. Coaching is a viable avenue for employers who want to reduce the friction the veterans experience and to ensure that the veterans embrace and understand the civilian work culture they are experiencing.
Anders, G (2008, March 24). Overseeing more employees with fewer managers. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB120630906217458011
Published: August 12, 2022
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I was excited to participate in the research that led to the Mission Next book because it reminded me how this needed to be a priority for our organization.
Chief Human Resources Officer
Community healthcare organization
I learned that you can't walk around with your rank in your back pocket, so I had to quickly adapt in the new civilian environment. Any preparation work you can do before you make the transition is worth your time.
Retired U.S. Army officer
University veterans’ liaison
From the very beginning, I spent time working on my interpersonal communication skills. I de-militarized my speech and stopped using all the jargon. Since then, I’ve helped many veterans make that transition...
Retired U.S. Army officer
Human Resources Director, manufacturing company
I got an early copy of the Mission Next book to preview. I wish I would’ve had the book prior to my transition because I had to figure out so many of the points from the book on my own.
Former U.S. Navy officer
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