|Image Eastern Illinois University|
Expectations and Reality are Far Apart on Both Sides of the Employment Spectrum
By Ken Larson
Aside from the legal and moral obligations to employ returning veterans, there is a third, vital challenge in the employment transition equation: understanding the vast difference between the military and civilian work environments. The expectations of both parties must be carefully assessed and communicated with realistic processes for effective transition from military to civilian employment by the veteran.
Civilian Knowledge of the Military Environment Has Diminished
As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.
The Tragedy of the American Military
War was much closer to home when the draft existed and military participation ran higher during WW II and the Vietnam Conflict.
The Nature of Today's Wars and a Cynicism with Regard to Their Outcome Impacts the Veteran and the Civilian Outlook
Ultimately, the military’s discontent may stem from dissonance between the commitment to, and pride in, the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan and the knowledge that these sacrifices have not yielded the desired results.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan arguably have prompted a crisis of confidence within the military itself.
Despite a six-year, $287 million effort to make troops more optimistic and resilient, an Army survey found that 52 percent of soldiers scored badly on questions that measured optimism, while 48 percent reported having little satisfaction or commitment to their job.
Understanding the Military's Morale Crisis
Veterans bring these issues home and find a civilian employment environment that does not have a focus on combat life and death, but rather an emphasis on long term thinking, collaboration, viewing actions with respect to the impact on internal and external customers and politically correct human resource considerations.
The assumption on the part of the employer is that the strength and training of the individual coming out of the military environment permits a reasonable transition. It does not.
We Must Educate and Develop Programs to Bridge the Gap from Both Ends.
A transition partnership between the veteran and the company is necessary. Expectations must be adjusted to reflect the differences in both venues.
Military core values such as – oaths, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a culture of direct command, and a narrow focus on the task at hand are no longer available when the veteran leaves the military.
In the civilian environment political correctness, strategic group awareness, tact, organization factors, and a broad view of mission and achievement are required.
A veteran is therefore not so much entitled to a job as he or she is entitled to be understood, and to be allowed to understand the civilian job environment, growing into it.
Professional Roles are Vital
There are two important types of professional roles to consider when hiring and managing military veterans in the business venue.
As a veteran who made the transition to civilian professional work and ultimately owned a small enterprise, and as a counselor who supports veterans in becoming business owners, my experience over several decades indicates military men and women do well in Role 1 below. They have the most challenges with Role 2.
Role 2- ManagementFunctional process capacities responsible for hiring, evaluation, supervision, compliance with civilian law and department activities involving group dynamics, customer relations and sensitive human factors.
I knew how to direct people who followed orders without question because the Uniform Code of Military Justice to which we swore an oath said they must do so.
I felt uncomfortable in jobs involving Role 2 above because they were foreign to me. I later adjusted, learned the venue and became skilled as a manager in the corporate world. I preferred staff assignments, however for most of my career.
The corporate venue seemed enormously political and bureaucratic to a former war fighter like me. I was not that tactful. I cut to the chase often and did not always take everyone with me when I made a decision.
Once I grew into a Role 2 performer, I found in interviewing, hiring, evaluating and managing young veterans, even seasoned ones, who had retired and joined the civilian work force, that almost all were better suited for Role 1. It took years and effort on my part to fit them into Role 2 and some never made it.
The principal reason for the logic conveyed above is that the military environment may seem to be structured in a way that fits Role 2, but the military does not turn out individuals who are suited in the knowledge and experience necessary in the civilian environment and they are not very good at it without extensive training and adaptation.
Enterprises have multiple-faceted challenges and they require multiple- faceted people. Even though individuals may hold a specific position job title, success in the civilian work force demands avenues where the human resource can contribute in multiple ways.
If a contributor has experience and training in several areas the business can utilize, that makes him or her a valuable resource and it is likely they will be professionally fulfilled and rewarded from doing so. Military personnel have specialty training and focus; few have a wide view of what is in front of them, particularly with respect to military vs. civilian professional settings.
It all comes down to the workers having an element of control in the future success for both themselves and the company and having the opportunity to realize their potential in that regard.
If the professional is in a narrow, technical discipline and his or her expectations are to have others support them in that role or if they are more comfortable in a "Stove-piped" professional setting and not attuned to group dynamics and the often politically correct nature of the civilian organization, they perhaps belong in technical roles and they do not belong in management roles at the onset of their employ.
In fairness to veterans and to our hopes for them in the future, we must understand these above distinctions, build on Role 1, understand the risk in Role 2 and assist wherever possible.
Above all, a respectful partnership and realistic expectations must evolve between the veteran and the company for success in transitioning former military personnel into the civilian work force. This must be achieved through education, training, communication and assessment of both the veteran and the company personnel
About the Author:
Ken Larson is a 2 Tour US Army Vietnam Veteran, retired after 36 Years in the Defense Industrial Complex, having worked on 25 major weapons systems, many of which are in use today in the Middle East. He concluded his career with his own consulting firm. As a MicroMentor Volunteer Counselor Ken receives many inquiries from small companies wishing to enter or enhance their position in federal government contracting.