Is Your Veteran Program Top Down or Bottom Up?


Developing and sustaining a veteran recruiting and development program requires commitment, resources, and endorsement. It is critical that upper management, especially those in the C-suite, view the program as important to the business, the brand, and the community of military service members transitioning to civilian careers. Best practices across companies with thriving veteran hiring initiatives show that top down support gives these programs a high likelihood of standing the test of time.

Not often talked about, however, is the opportunity to drive success in a veteran hiring initiative by engaging employees at all levels of the organization, particularly the ground level. It is my opinion that creating a "bottom up" campaign in the company around the value of hiring and growing veteran talent can galvanize employees around new and positive feelings for their employer, uniting them around a common mission.

Reasons to Mobilize All Staff

I believe there are many reasons to consider expanding involvement in your veteran program to employees outside of HR and Marketing, such as:

1. Employees feel attached to something bigger than their job: When employees feel vested in working with military veterans, they begin to appreciate the skills, experience, and character veterans bring to the workplace. As civilian employees learn of the military values of service, honor, duty and commitment, their feelings about their jobs should increase.

2. Brand awareness is elevated in recruiting: Companies of all sizes experience perception issues during the recruitment process. What if job applicants believed Verizon only makes cell phones, GE just makes light bulbs, or Smith & Co., CPA only files tax returns for clients? When the brand is not clear in the minds of applicants, jobs don't get filled, candidates move on to competitors, and opportunities are missed. Engaging employees in a campaign to recruit and grow veteran talent helps them learn how to share the value proposition of their employer and empowers them to become effective brand ambassadors for the organization.

3. General brand lift across the organization: Beyond building goodwill in the community, when employees are engaged in the veteran hiring initiative they see firsthand how to leverage a veteran employee's loyalty, commitment to service, and moral character to benefit the whole company. As the civilian employee's feelings towards their employer's commitment to veterans grow, employees believe:

  • My company cares about the military community
  • I'm motivated to share the great work culture at my company with others (online and in person)
  • I know how I can help my veteran team members integrate into the company and become successful here. This makes me feel great!

Expected Business Outcomes

In my experience, for a brand to thrive outside the organization, it must be lived fully internally. Enlisting employees in building out a veteran program can return value to the business in the form of:

  • Lower attrition. When employees believe their company's values align with their own, they are likely to tolerate change, uncertainty, and instability with more patience.
  • Better recruitment. While HR and marketing produce recruiting materials for talent acquisition and hiring, employees across the company can communicate why veterans matter to the company, how they are valued as team members, and how veteran employees grow with others. Then, recruitment should grow organically through referrals and word of mouth.
  • Improved vendor relations. Employees working with outside vendors who are also passionate about working with the military community can share their best practices and collaborate in demonstrating appreciation for veterans, thereby strengthening the bond between customer and vendor.
  • Public relations opportunities. Promoting veterans to the media and the local community can raise awareness of the company's commitment to serve those who have served. When veterans share the spotlight alongside civilians in outlining company initiatives and successes, it reinforces awareness that the business successfully integrates veteran and civilian employees into visible positions.

Getting Started

Creating a bottom-up campaign around veteran hiring requires coordinated efforts by several internal teams, including Corporate Communications, Human Resources (Hiring, and Learning and Development), Finance, Marketing, and the Executive Officers. Getting started means:

  • Setting clear metrics and goals. Consider measuring hard numbers (i.e. increase in qualified applicants, and employee retention) and brand goals (i.e. shift in perception, and increased awareness in new markets).
  • Training employees and managers. Civilian employees and managers might be unaware of the challenges veteran employees work through to reintegrate into their new careers. These same civilians might need tools to assist in building productive working relationships with veteran colleagues, leveraging each other's strengths.
  • Developing incentives. Programs that reward employee referrals, new ideas, and accomplishments, can be great motivators for employees at all levels of the organization.
  • Empower employees to spread the word online. Employees can become ambassadors for the program and the company by sharing positive experiences, lessons learned, and milestones achieved with their online networks. Clear guidelines should be set, and monitored to ensure overall brand consistency.

Engaging all employees in the company's veteran program requires a strategic and coordinated effort. The return on investment of engaging employees across the business in integrating and growing the veteran employee is ultimately measured in many meaningful ways.

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