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Assessing the Civilian Professional Culture

Business meeting desk

When it comes to indoctrination into a new professional culture, the military has this down to an art.  For every member that wishes to put on the uniform must endure basic training just like those that went before them.  While basic training might touch upon very basic combat principles, one can easily look back and realize it was actually all about culture.  By the time you arrived at your active destination, you knew the history, you knew who to salute, and you knew the standard up to which you must live.  Sadly, when you leave the military for the civilian workforce, the equivalent is likely no more than a week orientation in a stuffy training room led by a boring human resources manager.  And it is with that, you must learn to quickly assess and adapt to your new civilian professional culture.

The People

If you have existed for a number of years where everyone around you is a Marine, or Soldier, or Sailor, then you might be accustomed to very homogenous thought and work habits.  So the first day you step into your new profession and you are instead surrounded by a myriad of individuals who couldn't be more different, there is a field of interpersonal land mines in front of you waiting to be set off.  Don't be surprised if the office manager doesn't handle blunt Marine humor well or your new boss reacts poorly to your aggressive tone and posture. 

It is perfectly fine to keep relationships simple and friendly at first while you assess their communication style.  Just as you bring your military experience, these individuals bring with them a complex history and social style completely unknown to you.  So slow down, observe, evaluate, and then identify where modifications in your own social style are needed.  It is a rare thing in this world that you would be completely surrounded by the people you preference so you might as well start practicing your social flexibility now.  Victory in the civilian sector goes to the emotionally intelligent and socially versatile. 

The Processes

Adaptability is prized in the military culture and one would like to think this is true in every organization. However, this is simply not always the case as many organizations take what you might know as standard operating procedures and have codified them into what seems like religious law.  So before you start challenging these procedures on day one, it is important to assess how the organization feels about them.  Do your co-workers enjoy them?  Were they developed by the boss himself? Are there functions they serve for which you simply don't understand yet?

Too often, the transitioning military member will quickly identify what is "broken" or "ridiculous" about a new job without taking the time to understand the history behind it.  If the boss developed these process himself, he will probably not respond well when you tell them how stupid they are.  Rather, taking the time to understand them and proving you have the ability to master them will place you on a much better platform to implement change in the workplace.  Victory in the civilian sector goes to those who learn and master rather than complain.

The Product

If you were to ask a Marine what the primary responsibilities of leadership are, they would likely tell you mission accomplishment first followed by troop welfare.  With this context, a Marine NCO understands what to prioritize when the two are in conflict. So as you step into your new professional culture, you need to figure what your organization, management, and your peers prioritize.  What is the product this company produces?

Are they interested in excellent customer service or a rapid pace of work?  Which co-workers are rewarded for excellence and what are their similar traits?  Does this organization pursue the bottom line at all cost or are they motivated by keeping their employees happy?  Every bit of this relates to culture and it can be overwhelming for the transitioning military member to assess.  However, victory in the civilian culture goes to the resilient and this should give the military veteran a leg up.  You are undoubtedly ready to adapt and overcome, but first you must assess the people, processes, and product.  Then victory will be within reach.

For more information, contact our partners at HOH.

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