When military service members transition to the civilian workforce, they often miss the camaraderie and closeness of the military culture. During their service, there is a shared purpose, focus on mission, and bond that often remains between veterans for a lifetime.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are popular in companies where employees can form informal or formal networks over common interests and passions. Groups of working moms, HR professionals, baseball fanatics, or those from certain nationalities might naturally form an ERG because of shared experiences, or goals. Sometimes these ERGs are intentionally formed to address specific causes, issues or opportunities for volunteering.
When hiring and on boarding veterans, a great selling point is having a thoughtful and robust Veteran Resource Group (VRG) at your company. A successful VRG will provide:
- Veteran employees with a place to meet up, collaborate, and learn
- Support and camaraderie for veteran employees with others with shared experiences
- A mentoring platform to help veteran employees learn how to build a career and navigate their professional life
- Offers, discounts, and opportunities unique to veterans and military families
- Insight for non-veterans in the company, about the valuable assets veterans bring to the work, help dispel myths around the military experience, and elevate the company’s brand as a Veteran Friendly Employer
Building a VRG starts by identifying people in the company who are former military and/or have a passion for helping veterans. Often, civilian employees see a VRG as a great way to connect to their colleagues who served, and learn more about their experience.
You’ll also want to include veterans in the company who identify as former military and have an interest in developing the group. Don't assume that every veteran employee wants to be part of the VRG.
A Veteran Resource Group should have:
- A leader. Choose someone who will champion the issues, needs and opportunities of the group, as well as identify gaps in resources. This person should be passionate about helping bridge the military-to-civilian divide at the company. Whether or not they served in the military is not as important as their commitment, passion and access to resources.
- A clear purpose. Why are you forming the group? Are you looking to elevate awareness of veterans’ issues, provide mentoring and support to veteran employees, or offer discounts and services to veterans?
- Goals. Set tangible goals against which you will measure the effectiveness and impact of your group. If your goal is to increase services to veteran employees, set a clear strategy to measure the results and impact of those services, not just the number of services offered. If your goals include providing mentoring to veteran employees, measure the quality of the mentoring in meeting performance goals for the employee.
- Resources. While you can build programs without a budget, having resources allows you to create program materials, build online tools (websites, blogs, chat forums) and host networking and educational events.
- Feedback. Periodically check in with your veteran employees through the VRG to ensure you are meeting their needs. A good group will have mechanisms for feedback and support, which will create a culture of inclusivity and commitment in your veteran employees.
Start your VRG small and let it build. There are no cookie-cutter templates for successful VRGs, and I advise that you consider the culture of your company, nuances of your industry, the dynamics of your leadership team, and the strength of your brand when building and growing your program. Over time, your program may morph into an outward-facing effort that brings your company and your brand into the national conversation on veteran hiring and retention.