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The Overlooked Value of Military Skills for Business

A constant question that both veterans and employers ask me is: "How can I get more use from previous military experience for my career / business?"  Indeed, questions like this should be no surprise.  The inability of veterans to translate military skills to second career use and the inability of employers to identify how to translate and to employ military skills to make their business better has long been identified as a major shortcoming.  Starting in 2010 and continuing up today, the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM), Prudential, Monster, RAND, the Center for New American Security (CNAS), and Pew Research, to name only a few, have all identified the gap in translating military skills to post-military service careers as either the number 1 or number 2 issue in effective military career transition. 

Indeed, effective skills translation is only second to the inability (both real and perceived) of military veterans to integrate effectively and quickly into a new corporate culture / environment.  Not surprisingly, this gap holds true regardless of rank, experience, and service.  A Major General in the Marine Corps or a US Air Force Staff Sergeant both struggle with how to effectively translate and apply their military background to make their new employer better. 

This effective translation of military skills to business goes far, far beyond the Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) skills translators in use.  To be effective in business, military veterans need to translate the essence of the planning, leadership, risk mitigation, war gaming, and military intelligence processes to make their employers, and by extension their careers, better.  When the application of military frameworks to current business processes is done correctly, it creates a more viable, innovative, creative, and leadership ready workforce that can more effectively respond and successfully adapt to today’s competitive, demanding, and ever transforming business environment. 

How Military Skills Translate to Business Use – One thing that veterans DO NOT HAVE TO DO by themselves is determine how universal military and specialized skills translate into business use.  There are over thirty (30) core Special Operations Forces (SOF) and military principles that translate well into business use. 

The SOF mission execution framework is grouped into four (4) core areas for business application:

(1) Understand (Know your competition, environment, and how to best use your capabilities).
(2) Plan (Create a robust plan with several options to be successful against your competition).
(3) Execute (Create backups and procedures to ensure success in a high-risk environment).
(4) Improve (How to educate and review your operations to improve).

Below are some examples of Special Operations and military frameworks and how they translate and apply to business use:


Understand

Military Application

Definition

Business Use Examples

Military History Applied to Business

Examples from recent military history have strong application to business use.

The recent World War II Movie – "Red Tails" about the Tuskegee Airman featured the use of After Action Reviews to reinforce teaching new pilots how to survive enemy tactics.

Military Professionalism As a Guide to Business Professionalism

Military leadership characteristics such as professionalism, duty, honor, and integrity support the dual business goals of profits and ethics.

The use of historical examples of military leaders and how their leadership skills support sound business and ethical practices.

Plan

Military Application

Definition

Business Use Examples

The Use of Intelligence

Ensuring the entire organization has a frequent, common, and understood look at the primary competitive issues.

Most businesses have an infrequent and non-standard way they study and understand their competition.

The War Game and Red Team Process

The Commercial War Game process is when a business plan is "acted out" vs. the competition to ensure it will be successful.

Commercial War Gaming and "Red Teaming" places the business against the competition to ensure the firm fully anticipates and plans to mitigate competitor actions.

Execute

Military Application

Definition

Business Use Examples

The Use of Back Up Plans or the P-A-C-E Process

The P-A-C-E planning system stands for: Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency and makes sure a firm has 4 ways to accomplish tasks that are vital to business success.

Companies should use P-A-C-E to back up their supply chains to ensure their critical part supply is not threatened.

Team Leadership

Military leadership creates inspired, cohesive, and connected teams to ensure all critical functions and plans are accomplished.

Teams are the core element that companies use to address new products, innovation, and solve business problems.

Improve

Military Application

Definition

Business Use Examples

The Military After Action Review (AAR)

The After Action Review (AAR) is when a firm does a post-mortem on a business venture: (1) what happened, (2) what did & did not go well, and (3) what is the plan to fix.

Companies should use the AAR after major product launches, new store openings, or when they can pause, examine an operation, and learn what they did well & need to improve.

Military Performance Coaching

Performance coaching is done from leader to subordinate and identifies what is going well, what needs improvement and the plan with a timeline to improve.

Performance coaching should be done with every employee at least quarterly.  Employee’s truly benefit when they are compared to a common standard and an improvement program is put in place.

Resources to Learn More How Military & Special Operations Skills Apply to Business:

  1. Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and Battlefield to Business Success available through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
  2. Northwestern University Podcast On How Military Skills Apply To Business
  3. Northwestern University Podcast On How SOF Skills Apply To Business
  4. Featured in Inc. Magazine – "Leading Through Uncertainty: Lessons in Managing From the U.S. Military"
  5. Harvard Business Review Blog – Manage Uncertainty with Commander’s Intent
  6. Oxford Leadership Journal - Managing and Leading in the Midst of Uncertainty: Lessons from the Military

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