How the Business World Can Overlook the Value of Military Skills

Marines shoot illumination rounds from an M224 60mm mortar system off the flight deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41), Nov. 21, 2016 (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Chris Garcia)
Marines shoot illumination rounds from an M224 60mm mortar system off the flight deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41), Nov. 21, 2016. (Cpl. Chris Garcia/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

A constant question that veterans and employers ask me is: “How can I get more use from previous military experience for my career/business?” Questions such as this should be no surprise. The inability of veterans to translate military skills to a second career and the inability of employers to identify how to translate and employ military skills to make their business better has long been identified as a major shortcoming.

Starting in 2010 and continuing up to today, the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM), Prudential, Monster, RAND, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and Pew Research, to name only a few, have identified the gap in translating military skills to post-military service careers as either the No. 1 or No. 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 or environment.

Not surprisingly, this gap holds true regardless of rank, experience and service. A major general in the Marine Corps and a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant both struggle with how to translate and apply their military background effectively 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 respond more effectively and 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 to determine how universal military and specialized skills translate into business use. More than 30 core Special Operations Forces (SOF) and military principles translate well into business use. 

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

  • Understand (Know your competition, environment and how to best use your capabilities)
  • Plan (Create a robust plan with several options to be successful against your competition)
  • Execute (Create backups and procedures to ensure success in a high-risk environment)
  • 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:


Military Application


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 (AAR) 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.


Military Application


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 nonstandard 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" place the business against the competition to ensure the firm fully anticipates and plans to mitigate competitor actions.


Military Application


Business Use Examples

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

The P-A-C-E (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency) planning system makes sure a firm has four 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.


Military Application


Business Use Examples

The Military After Action Review (AAR)

The After Action Review (AAR) is when a firm does a postmortem on a business venture: (1) what happened; (2) what did and did not go well; and (3) what is the plan to fix it.

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 and 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. Employees truly benefit when they are compared to a common standard and an improvement program is put in place.

Resources to learn more how military and Special Operations skills apply to business:

  1. "Combat Leader to Corporate Leader" and "Battlefield to Business Success" are available through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
  2. Harvard Business Review Blog: Manage Uncertainty with Commander’s Intent

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