Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Translating Military Experience into Civilian Organizational Needs: A How-To (Guest Article)

Contributed by: Rich Virgilio

Congratulations, HR Professional! You made it into 2018 and now you get to take on the challenge of achieving the goals your executive leadership set forth in the strategic plan for the year. Most of the goals are straightforward, but a new wrinkle has appeared. Your organization’s execs have made it a specific goal to bring in more talented, former military people as a way to add another dimension of experience that can be shared among the workforce. This is intended to improve teamwork, generate some fresh views on finding solutions to problems, and increase productivity by promoting a “selfless service” culture found in the uniformed services.

Certainly, your recruiting has always included sourcing from the veterans’ community, but expressly targeting military experience is a step beyond, and certainly challenging. You find yourself asking, “How do I know that the skills I need specifically fit what a veteran has to offer?” Maybe you feel hamstrung since you don’t have first-hand military experience, or that you’re unfamiliar with what the military actually does behind those walls and gates, or that certain knowledge that there’s a whole lot more that goes into daily operations besides “killing people and breaking things (as some wags occasionally express it).” Certainly your organization doesn’t do those things!

Well, OK, as a methodology, let’s think generically about what the services have to do to function as the organizations that they are. Yes, they are huge, but they are made up of many, many smaller and subordinate units. Subordination implies a degree of both responsibility (to a next higher supervisor, let us say) and specialized function (which is a necessary portion of a bigger one). Organizational relationships and communications exist in your organization as well as in these units where they wear uniforms.

Are you following my line of thinking so far? See how we’re getting away from thinking that being in the military is isolated from the skills your organization’s needs?

“But we need people who can sell, and military people don’t sell anything.”

So as a start and as an illustration of this approach, let’s break this idea of selling into the component parts of the selling process. Fundamentally, selling is recognizing a prospect’s shortfall that can be fulfilled by a product or service offered by the seller. The skill is in characterizing the shortfall, communicating the identified need to the prospect, communicating the beneficial characteristics of the product or service, and then obtaining a commitment to utilize the offering. Here’s the piece that’s missing from most people’s understanding of the military: it’s not static. Things change. Old ways of doing things, or applying old solutions, don’t improve matters. Corporals bring up new ideas to sergeants, lieutenants present new options to captains, commanders present new tactics to admirals. All of these communications are sales. Yes, sales. So your position description or requisition doesn’t just say “Sales experience a plus;” it says “Sales or military decision briefing experience a plus.”

Or, you need an operations manager at one of your warehouses. Instead of “Warehouse operations experience desired,” you open up the aperture a bit and add “military supply and logistics fulfillment experience a plus,” because you know that somehow those soldiers overseas need to get food at their deployed site and they aren’t going to shop at the local grocery –somebody is in charge of moving that food from warehouses stateside, across interstate highways, across oceans, across local roads, and into the hands of cooks. If someone has successfully done that for a couple of years, they could surely manage your warehouse. But making that connection requires both you and the candidate to be speaking the same language, otherwise you won’t realize that although one is talking blintzes and the other crêpes, you’re both talking pancakes.

An out-of-the-box (somewhat) suggestion for you to consider. This takes some time, but if your organization is serious about taking some proactive steps to increase your veteran “inventory,” the investment in effort and time could pay off. Don’t take it all on yourself! Communication is a two-way street, so think about reaching out to someone in the candidate pool whose résumé has at least a hint of what you’re looking for. Phrase it as a “request for more information.” Maybe like this: “Dear John, your résumé has some characteristics of what we’re looking for in our new widget production manager, but I need some better description in civilian terms of your experience at the Navy’s Widget Command so we can better understand if you’re a close enough fit to see if we should further invest time together.” Let the candidate take on the responsibility of presenting himself in your language. He will have been forewarned by his career change advisors to do it, and will do his best to better break out of any military-ese still remaining. And that will benefit you.

Give yourself a chance to effect this wrinkle in your recruiting. It’s not hard, but does take some focus and a bit of adjustment. And it’s a good way to assure yourself you haven’t missed some great talent because you weren’t thinking about how to connect with the veterans who are out there looking for you.

Rich Virgilio is a retired HR Professional and an occasional contributor to Astronology®. He currently resides just outside San Antonio, Texas.

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