Vets can get the job done in an environment where they are trained to succeed in.
When you make the choice to hire a veteran, you can know that when you give them a task they will do it, provided they have the means and support to get the job done. If it is safe, sound, and smart, vets will go at the task without the “incentive programs”, “rewards”, “blue jeans days” and all the other forms of extrinsic motivation that get in the way of doing business with a bunch of self-centered egotists. Veterans know what it means to have something that needs to be done. Vets have gained a sense of urgency and have seen the world through a big picture type mentality. If you ask them to do something they aren’t going to complain because it is too tough, too hard or infringes on their break time. When you need someone who is willing to work the long hours, do the hard tasks and the seemingly impossible, remember that in the back of their heads is, “Well at least I’m not getting shot at.” They have a strong respect for procedures and accountability. Service members know how policies and procedures enable an organization to be successful and they easily understand their place within an organizational framework. Vets get the obligation that comes with being responsible for the actions of subordinates and they understand how to properly alleviate issues through the proper supervisory channels.
Considering that, you may wonder why veterans you have worked with in the past, didn’t shape up like what was expected. A good thing to consider is that most hiring managers hire veterans with the wrong idea in mind. Usually, they are hiring lower to mid-level managers of whatever it is they are doing because that is the experience level that most veterans have. The problem is that these individuals often lack much of the tacit knowledge others gain through working their way up through the civilian side of the latter. You might be surprised at some of the things you would think are obvious that a veteran just won’t think of at first. It’s important to remember that most of their knowledge comes from the military, not civilian side of any industry, which has its own culture, regulations, implications, and priorities. That said, they solve problems in a completely different manner. They will do things completely differently than you have seen in your career. Often, this will be good because of the diversity it brings. Without an understanding of what is good in a civilian industry model, however, their techniques may be harmful. This is why, in the beginning, you should watch your veteran employees more to gear them for the new industry and be patient with these new mid-level employees making mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise expect from more junior employees who have worked the civilian side for a while.
That said, the important element of this combination is you giving them the instructions. If you don’t provide the support they need to do the work, they will fail. If you don’t make wise decisions and then ask them to do stupid things, they will fail. If you don’t make it possible for them do their job right, they will fail. Given a good vet and good task, however, they will never fail you. That’s why it is so important for managers to know that many military people need a great deal of structure in the beginning to survive in many organizations. They need to be trained well and given a solid framework with which to perform. Many hiring managers make the mistake of believing they will simply be able to hire a veteran and then that veteran will be a magic wand which can “get things done” absent any real training or supervision from the manager. This may happen, but just as likely that veteran employee might go off and drive your company or division into some random direction because you didn’t adequately direct their energy with training or guidance. Their drive is a useful fuel for the engine of progress in any strong company, but could just as easily have them fixing thousands of problems that either aren’t problems or don’t need to be fixed right now. They might even cause new issues because the military teaches and encourages movement and drive. If you don’t show them where they need to focus and what they need to do, then you have created a thermite mixture; a high energy burn that causes a big flash but usually breaks more than it builds.
When given a proper framework and adequate training, your veteran employees can amaze you at how hard they can work and what they can get done. Once that framework is established, many veterans are extremely independent. The thing that so many people seem to think about vets is that they want to have the strict and regimented hierarchy. Think about it, there is a reason they left the military. Most, in my experience, are confident in their abilities and just want to be left alone or to get busy with their team without strong supervision. From that point have flexibility to work strongly in teams or work independently. Military training teaches service members to work as a team by instilling a sense of a responsibility to one’s colleagues. In addition, the size and scope of military operations necessitates that service members understand how groups of all sizes relate to each other and support the overarching objective. While military duties stress teamwork and group productivity, they also build individuals who are able to perform independently at a very high level. As I mentioned before, military vets can be extremely independent. There have been numerous reports that show that military vets are more likely to start their own businesses than other demographic groups. They have natural drives to solve complex problems. They think tactically and strategically about problems. If you have given them the training and a framework to work within your organization they will be able to achieve your goals in ways you hadn’t considered before. They are resourceful and know how to use what assets they are given rather than look outside for support. This is what makes them entrepreneurial by nature and can help grow your companies from the inside rather than just be another task follower.
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