I am thrilled to see the corporate world embracing the skills and abilities of today’s veteran population.  The initiative, started in 2011 by JPMorgan Chase and eleven coalition companies, to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020, has seen significant growth.  This initiative, barely four years old has doubled their original goal and with 180 coalition companies in 2015, they are poised to hire even more veterans in the coming years.  These companies not only see the value of giving back to those veterans who have served to protect our freedoms and our way of life; they also understand the value each veteran brings to their workforce and know that these highly skilled and knowledgeable individuals will continue to improve our economy.

With all the attention congress, veteran organizations, and employers are placing on hiring veterans more veterans will be positioned to obtain gainful employment in the coming years.  While these groups are doing great work to prepare the veteran to obtain a job, there is little support or process for integrating veterans into the new corporate and civilian culture.

So what does the veteran need to successfully integrate into the civilian and corporate culture?

Communication and understanding. 

To successfully integrate into the corporate culture, veterans need clear direction and guidance. This is easier to understand when we take a quick look at what they were accustomed to in the military.   The military offers a highly structured environment.  Everything the servicemember needs to know is easily accessible and explicitly detailed.  Are your company or organization policies as descriptive and robust as the military?  If not, your veteran may have some trouble adjusting to your corporate culture without clear guides.

Veterans leave the service with a can do attitude, prepared to take on the civilian world and believe that with hard work they will find as much success in the private sector as they did in the government sector.  Unfortunately that is not always true.  Veterans are unprepared for the challenges associated with acclimating into a new culture.   They have highly developed adaptation skills, honed over years of responding under pressure and frequently changing missions and landscapes.  They believe they are ready.  While they certainly have the skills, knowledge, and ability to acclimate quickly, the steep learning curve is often overwhelming and can bring on feelings of frustration and failure early in the process.  When this happens, the veteran can experience significant self doubt and not know exactly where to turn since all the previously successful tactics are no longer working or available.

As your company takes the strategic step to hire veterans you must also consider what steps to take in order to assimilate these veterans so they are adequately prepared for succeeding in your environment.

Veterans will face minor challenges from the start. 

Seemingly meaningless customs and tasks such as dress code, expense reports, and personal greetings can be completely foreign to a veteran.  While this may be addressed in your company’s orientation documents and policies, they may include assumptions and therefore not offer clear direction and guidance to the military veteran.  For example, a dress code that indicates business casual attire as the required apparel for your company may not resonate with a veteran who has spent several years with three choices of uniforms that are clearly identified for specific occasions and environments.

These minor challenges are merely growing pains for the veteran, and will pass quickly.  However, companies who take the time to review policies and procedures through a military culture lens will reap huge benefits when it comes to retention.  Veterans are a loyal bunch.  When they are sincerely supported throughout their transition they are more likely to be highly engaged in their work and stay longer at your company.  Consider investing in military cultural awareness and review policies and onboarding procedures through this new lens, you won’t regret it!

There are greater challenges associated with assimilation that cannot be taken for granted.  Taking a deeper look at the top 5 challneges veterans face as they assimilate into your culture will provide insight to how best support your veteran hire.

Structure – military culture is centered and dependent on the team environment.  Everything that is accomplioshed in the military is successful because everyone on the team pitched it.  In the corpaorte environment, the culture is largely focused on individual contribution  and personal achievement.  Adapting to this culture requires the veteran to understand the philosophy and background, it cannot be merely communicated or wait for them to learn it along the way.  The veteran starts the race behind and must work extra hard to make up the difference.  Educating your veteran at the onset about this cultural difference and the culture of your organization specifically will go a long way to acclimating that veteran and reaping the benefits.

Motivations – Veterans join the military for a variety of reasons, however, a sense of purpose and duty is instilled in every servicemember as they move through their career in the military. This sense of purpose and belief in what they are fighting for is the foundation of their courage and moves them into action.  While they may be motivated by the traditional offerings in a corporation such as money, bonus, more responsibility, an office, or a new title, consider that those motivations will pale in comparison to their previous motivation of protecting their country, its citizens, and their freedom.   Consider alternate ways to engage veterans and have them buy into the mission of the organization.

Rules of engagement – In the military there are clear rules of engagement.  They know when and where they can and cannot move, what their mission is, and how to accomplish it.  They also have a variety of contingencies floating around in their minds and are constantly working out new solutions within the ROE.  When they move to the business world, the rules of engagement are not as clear.  There may be a language or jargon barrier that prevents them from understanding where the boundaries are.  This goes beyond the general sentiments of how to do their job.  It speaks to the larger culture, communiation, and interaction between all employees at the company.  Understanding the new lingo, and how to appropriately communicate with peers, subordinates, and supervisors is a critical component to the veterans success.  Certainly, the veteran will (and has) been learning this through trial and error since they left the service, however what can an employer do to help them learn this language, customs, and manneurisms before they make a mistake and learn from it.

Turnover – Turnover is a costly challenge facing all companies whether there is a recession or not.  Losing key talent can be expensive, especially when you consider retraining, and institutional knowledge.  Why take the risk with a veteran you have already inve3sted so much into.

Military servicemembers and their families are accustomed to frequent change.  They change positions and/or location every 2-3 years. In the event of frequent deployment they may change as frequently as 3-6 months.  They do not have a choice, they cannot negotiate a better assignment, they cannot leave the company for a different opportunity.  They must adapt, they must move, they must start over all over again.

This is an important distinction for veterans since they possess confidence that they can start over if they need to.  Companies who invest in their veteran hires and support them as they integrate into this new way of life, will build trust and raport with their veteran hires and succeed in retaining this coveted talent for many years.

Benefits – So what is the benefit of investing in assimilating the veteran?  By investing in your veteran and integrating them for corporate success you access their core values of duty, honor, loyalty, dedication, and leadership.  Investing in the veteran employee is actually an investment in your company. As they acclimate successfully to your culture they will engage other employees around them.  Once they know the language of your company, they can articulate the mission, assign duties, and ensure accountability as they reach for success.

Investment in integrating a veteran will allow you to leverage all the greatest assets that veteran has, help them adapt to their new culture, and find greater success.

In the military we say, train as you fight.  Prepare your veteran for the corporate world and then reap the benefits of their corporate success.

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