Managing the Civilian Workforce

A woman meets with her manager. (Stock photo)

When a Veteran leaves the service, they typically bring with them unparalleled leadership experience and a unique ability to achieve outcomes. Such skills are highly prized in the civilian sector and one might think that the transition to civilian management would be an easy one. But a few Human Resources complaints and employee resignations later, Veterans often find that their post-military management skills need a little tweaking.

It Starts With You

The military is an environment where the new recruits are expected to adapt to the existing culture and submit to the authority of rank. However, in the civilian workplace, the burden is upon leadership to develop the versatility and emotional intelligence to manage those in their field. A manager simply cannot complain that they don't make employees like they used to. A manager must develop the skills to manage the workforce they are given in order to achieve outcomes. And this starts with you pursuing your own skill development as a manager.

While it is certainly true that employees must meet expectations and maintain a certain level of professionalism at all times, the manager that excels in the civilian workplace is the one most likely to influence others to such behavior. Yes, the employee should comply because you are the boss, but what happens when they don't?

Perhaps you could verbally berate the employee about their lack of military discipline or even terminate their employment only to replace them with another civilian employee likely to make the same mistakes. Or perhaps you develop a versatile social style and methods of delivering tough feedback that influences the employee to greatness? The path to your own professional excellence can vary greatly, but it likely doesn't involve constantly stating, "But this is the way we did things in the Army!" The burden is on you as a civilian leader to adapt.

Civilians Can and Will Quit

Military members might quit their jobs, but only after their legally binding contract has expired. The newly transitioned veteran manager will find out quickly that there is rarely such a parallel in the civilian sector.

The cost of employee turnover varies among industries, but a manager who cannot keep their best employees cost the organization both money and productivity. This doesn't mean you can't have difficult crucial conversations with your employees or ask them for a great deal of hard work. Rather, it just means if you are not very good at how you go about it, your best employees will simply take their talents to a competitor in your industry.

It will be important for the new manager to become a student in their organization's human resource guidelines as well as any employment laws unique to the State. This will allow you to know the full boundaries of your authority and hopefully stop you from threatening a night in the Brig for a failure to show up to work on time.

But most importantly, become a student of workplace culture. You simply cannot assume a workforce that has never put on the uniform to respond positively to a military culture and military style leadership. The burden is on you as the manager to learn, adapt, and craft a culture that will accomplish the mission while retaining the key personnel you need to do so. There are no contracts or legal repercussions, just your ability to lead others to greatness.

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