Your team worked hard to identify where veteran talent will provide needed skills and leadership in select business divisions. You drafted individualized goals and KPIs. You figured out the best sources for veteran talent among the various military agency recruitment programs and partner organizations. You designed and implemented new onboarding processes including a mentorship program with a web-based component, and you’re working to stand up an employee resource group. Maybe you got a little budget allocated for your efforts. So far, so good.

What else do you need to keep your Veteran program viable, effective, and aligned to strategic objectives?

   1. Look in the Mirror on What Drives Your Culture.

What makes veterans different is the institutional structure they have left behind after four, eight, ten or more years. It was highly structured, built around a strongly communicated mission, purpose, and core values. In the military, your role is clear, your criteria for evaluation are clear, and your path to advancement is (pretty) clear. 

Now they’re at your place. Do you know what it says in the employee handbook? Is it true, the mission, vision, values? Are your roles and responsibilities clearly defined?  What are the expectations for success, for advancement? Can your mentorship program truly educate this influx of raw talent and leadership on your organization’s culture? Is there additional training available, if needed?

Because it would impact the projections to onboard this great talent pool and then not leverage it for every ounce of impact you can demand. These men and women are talent assets who – once comfortable – can supercharge their teams with their energy,  adaptability and expertise. 

   2. How’s Your Onboarding Game? 

Transitioning into a new situation is tough, and coming in as a member of a special class or program is even more difficult.  Expectations are high, and former service members do not like to feel they have failed. And so, your job is to provide an excellent topographic map, a clearly-stated commander’s intent and enough resources to get the job done. 

   3. Understand Their Potential. And also Their Limits.

Veterans are widely misunderstood because of the decline in societal participation in the military, dropping from a full 18% participation rate in 1980 to 8% in 2018, the last year that data is available [SOURCE:]. This decline suggests that fewer employees will have known or encountered persons who have served so the skills, insights, perspective, and experience of your veteran hires are often unknown or assumed.  

Take the time to understand the lived experience of our post-9/11 veterans who comprise 5.6% of today’s civilian workforce [SOURCE: Department of Labor,]. Not everyone saw combat. Not everyone was traumatized. In fact, journalist and author Sebastian Junger, prolific author and speaker on military culture, asserts that it’s not the battlefield trauma that has created the emotional challenges for this population: it’s coming home to a lack of purpose, diminished social connections, and generalized anger of our country.

While it’s not up to you or your organization to fix our social ills, you can provide clarity of purpose, create opportunities for social connection and a sense of community, and foster an empathic culture that benefits all employees, not only your veterans. 

   4. Mentoring Can Be Effective. Or Not. 

When it comes to a comprehensive or grass roots mentoring program, consider the goals, expectations, and definition of success for the program and the program participants. Let’s face it: mentoring is another responsibility with the potential to be extremely demanding when boundaries and expectations are not put in place. Providing a streamlined process to identify, pair, and support program participants will be much more effective for the engagement of your veteran population. 

Veterans are good at doing more with less so it’s necessary to provide clarity on program requirements in terms of time allocation, intended cadence, and expected outcomes. Each mentor will be responsible for more than one veteran employee, consider structuring meetings as a peer group with a group messaging app for follow up, questions, and accountability monitoring. 

If budget allows, special event speakers, online or in person, can offload some of the mentors’ teaching and inspiration role and allow for additional conversation and teaching points within these special relationships. 

   5. Veterans Day and Memorial Day: Know the Difference?

Seriously, do you? And if you don’t, educate yourself, and look at your organization’s messaging around these days of recognition. While you’re at it, take a look at all the cultural holidays that your organization recognizes: is everyone clear on the basic premise of each calendar holiday? Don’t be the CEO who is thanking service members on the more somber Memorial Day of remembrance. 

In conclusion, great teams have strong connective tissue that includes the personal recognition important to each member, and the benefits of a thoughtful veteran hiring program will radiate important policy truths and successes throughout your organization. Whether your program is new-ish or has been established for years, an annual review of what’s wonderful and what’s less wonderful will only strengthen the outcomes brought to fruition by your veteran talent pool. 

More About The Ambitious VET Network: 

The Ambitious VET Network (AVN) delivers culturally literate corporate learning and development programs to veterans that strengthen their ability to thrive in and contribute to your company’s mission. Our programs were developed by veterans for veterans, and backed by research, which we believe is integral to a holistic hiring and retention strategy for veteran candidates. 

By: Jennifer Thayer, Chief of Staff, the Ambitious VET Network

AVN Announces "Building a Strong Personal Tribe" Course for Veterans