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A Valuable, Career Advancing Skill Combination Veterans Bring to Employers & Their Career

Military to Civilian Transition

One of the most underappreciated and undervalued skill sets that veterans possess for civilian employers is the ability to combine a command and control culture with the room and understanding for individual initiative. The combination of an adherence to process while exercising individual thought and initiative to adapt and adjust as conditions change is an extraordinary asset in an economic climate characterized by doubt and apprehension. Civilian employers often have a Love-Hate relationship with the command and control style of leadership and with a leadership style that emphasizes personal initiative and innovation. In short, employers both want and fear an employee that will either ONLY follow instructions or that will ONLY exercise initiative.

A common criticism by potential employers is that military veterans are either too established in a command and control leadership style to be re-trained or that veteran's cannot operate in a world driven by initiative and a rapidly changing landscape. The truth for employers is that veterans can and do excel in both leadership frameworks. Veterans know how to follow orders and they know when to step beyond their orders and use initiative to accomplish the organization’s goals. Imagine a small military unit conducting an attack in Afghanistan. The unit employs a great deal of standard procedures in radio communications, orders process, set up procedures for crew served weapons and the like. Leaders and individual soldiers exercise initiative in deciding how to plan and conduct the attack. Conformance to both vital processes and individual initiative are essential components of a successful operation. Likewise, a retail store manager will use standardized accounting, inventory, and other retail sales procedures as she operates the store. However, retailers like Old Navy want her to use initiative to identify new trends, clothing styles, and potential employees.

Military and business people have to employ a "Spectrum of Improvisation" when they follow a plan. As they adapt the plan to meet Commander's Intent (or goals), they do not want to change proven processes and other common work techniques that are part of the plan and strengthen outcomes. Many times the plan is a source of strength; business leaders need to adapt only the portions of a plan that require adjustment. The Spectrum of Improvisation is to retain processes and systems that support mission excellence and adapt only necessary elements. Military veterans add value to businesses because they know both how to follow and adapt a plan to reach and surpass the business goals.

Here are three ideas how military skills add value to organizations:

  1. Are You Using Commander’s Intent to Support Individual Initiative? Commander’s Intent describes how the Commander envisions the battlefield at the conclusion of the mission. In brief, Commander’s Intent describes what success will look like and thus allows an individual to exercise initiative and adjust the plan or process so that even as conditions change, the goal of the plan can still be achieved. Businesses and organizations can use Commander’s Intent to maintain relevance and applicability in chaotic, dynamic, and resource-constrained environments.

  2. When Was the Last Time Your Organization Used an After Action Review (AAR)? The purpose of the AAR is to conduct a fact based and intensive review of an operation to determine what went well, what did not go well, and how to improve the operation in the future. The AAR is a vehicle for continuous improvement, and it is employed in every facet of operations from supply convoys to data processing to small-unit attacks. The AAR brings all people involved in an operation together, seeks to understand what happened and why, and then seeks to implement a training plan to correct mistakes and incorporate positive outcomes into future mission execution. The final step of the AAR is to create a defined, understood, and time-based organizational improvement plan.

  3. Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) Create Flexibility and Encourage Initiative. SOP’s are every day, common and vital activity whose performance is a foundation for the success of the organization. To be successful and to ensure adoption, SOP’s must be based upon employee input and design. McDonald’s is an unrivaled master at common food preparation and food service procedures. The incorporation of employees and management to draft, test, and finalize important procedures are essential. The more common the procedures, the greater the value when conditions change.

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