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Management Advice From Veterans Who Made The Corporate Transition

By Dan Woods (2291 words)
Posted in Leadership & Teambuilding on November 11, 2014

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Many private sector companies actively seek out Ex-Military Officers to fill employment opportunities. They hire them into their leadership programs and management positions with a great deal of confidence that they will bring a unique skill set and accelerated management experience to strengthen their organization. These individuals can walk into a leadership or management role, learn quickly, make decisions and move forward with confidence. Their transition, however, can be personally challenging due to the cultural differences between the military and private sectors. Employers must take this into consideration when bringing them onboard and offer different development support for these individuals.


The purpose of this article is to share candid and real feedback from individuals who made a successful transition from the Military to the Business sector. Here they offer their thoughts and advice for business leaders and managers working with Junior Military Officers (JMOs).



Management Advice From Veterans Who Made The Corporate Transition



Former JMO Turned Senior Talent Advisor:


"My advice would be that they understand that JMOs are individuals who each bring in their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Not all JMOs are great leaders and most are not like the stereotypes from A Few Good Men or Top Gun. An infantry officer's career and experience would be radically different than an ordnance officer who (for example) may never have been deployed. The one thing they all have in common is a steep learning curve about their new (non-military) business. So any help the manager can give to quickly get the JMO up to speed on the lingo (should pick that up quickly--lots of acronyms in the military), how the power structure works and how things get done is helpful. Being candid about anything that the JMO does that is not acceptable in Corporate America (chewing tobacco is out!) is also helpful. Again, all tailored to how the JMO is behaving. Most JMOs in this generation have had tons of experience under really stressful conditions and are really clean cut, hardworking smart people. They are usually worth their weight in gold but it's better to not generalize too much!"


Former JMO Turned Leadership Consultant:


"JMOs are coming from an environment of clearly defined objectives, tasks, conditions, standards, rules of engagement, and criteria for success. These are necessary in military operations, as ambiguity often has disastrous results. Managers of JMOs should be aware of this previous environment and assign initial tasks that have clearly defined goals, conditions, resources available, operating guidelines, and criteria for success. Allow the JMO to get some experience and wins, before moving to more complex tasks. JMOs will learn over time that business has more shades of black & white than the military. They’ll also learn there is more opportunity in business for individual initiative – to go beyond the expected to the unexpected – to be a hero."


Former JMO Turned Business Development Executive:


"Each person is different of course, but the non-military manager, (in general) should not be afraid to throw the JMO into the fire. They can think on their feet--especially with all of the deployments and situations in the past few years. Managing people, tasks, and goals should not be an issue. They've been doing it. I guess I'm saying that they hired the people with leadership traits, dynamic backgrounds--so go ahead and let them jump into things. Also, they should delegate and let the JMOs drive success and strategic goals. Of course, there has to be some onboarding. Selecting former JMOs or experienced managers as mentors in the beginning isn't a bad idea. Hope this helps."


From a Director of Investment Operations:


"My first reaction is that a manager of a JMO should understand that as part of a military structure, there is a common set of beliefs we all have. Beliefs about justice, integrity, candor, selfless service, honor, courage, and several others. These are matters the military members are generally not to wishy-washy about. At the core of many poor relationships between non-military managers and JMOs is a lack understanding in this area. The JMO in transition does not understand why the rest of the civilian world does not see decision making through their lens. The non-military manager is used to dealing with a team having diverse beliefs and does not understand why the JMO is so rigid. If the beliefs, values, and norms of a JMO are aligned with his/her manager, then the JMO generally thrives. If there is a disconnect and no deliberate attempts to connect occur, then 1 of 2 things generally happen: The JMO goes through a very painful military to civilian transition process in order to adapt to his/her manager or the JMO leaves and continues to change jobs until they find their fit. Either way, a lot of pain between manager and JMO can be avoided when the manager starts by understanding the beliefs of their JMO and supports their transition to the diversity thought required within the civilian workplace. Reality is a bit messier than what I describe above but I think the principle is strong and valuable."


From a Senior Director of Business Development:


"The biggest problem I saw of non-military managers was this thought that veterans only give and take orders, thereby assuming we were single track minded robots incapable of problem solving. Nothing could be further from the truth of course. I think educating managers of the complex problems military leaders must solve on a daily basis, from logistics in the motorpool to executing a combined arms breach, is a must. Help them understand that vets are problem solvers not order followers. As officers, we didn't bark orders at our men to have them blindly follow; instead we gave them a mission and allowed them to figure out the best way to accomplish it. Also, managers shouldn't be timid about clearly stating their objectives and expectations. Be direct with a JMO, they can take it."


Former JMO Turned Regional Manager Manufacturing/Sales:


"I think it's important to understand that JMO's don't just fit in one particular box, and while there are some similar and positive attributes and experiences that we bring to the table, like other folks we are unique. With that said, JMO's typically are high achievers, who want to know the organization they are getting into has the potential for upside. Many JMO's will work, and work hard, more than many others, and will do so if they see the promise of recognition and reward. Successful JMO's who leave the military often do so because they want their efforts and talents to be realized beyond the static career path of the mid-grade officer. For me, I left the military because my family was more important, but my drive, leadership ability and dedication to doing what's right continue to propel me in my current role to succeed and excel."


Former JMO Turned Project Manager:


"You ask a good question - I have actually been on several hiring panels for my company over the past six months and out of six candidates interviewed, four were JMO's. My experiences lead me to a couple conclusions when dealing with former JMO's. First, capitalize on their problem solving abilities and resourcefulness. In comparison to non JMO's, the experience and professionalism of today's JMO's put them far ahead of the pack in terms of experience/exposure at that level in their career. Second, maintain a sense of "team" within your organization. Most prior military love serving because of the camaraderie and sense of "team" that comes with wearing the uniform. Many that are no longer in have left because of reasons other than they didn't like what they were doing - family, etc. Many of the JMO's that are searching for work these days are looking for an organization that maintains some of the key elements that they miss about the military (sense of team and sense of doing something for the greater good)"


Former JMO Turned Strategic Business Developer for a Leading Global Technology Company:


"Recognize that Junior Military Officers will need time to transition. They come very different environment and while the leadership and management skills are well advanced, there may be industry or organizational skill-sets that really need some nurturing. They are used to everything being very structured, and it is important to explain their new organization, how it operates and how its different from what they recently departed. This effort also requires the manager to understand more about the military to fully grasp these distinctions. In short, both the manager and employee will need to make an effort. To the extent that you can find ex-military who have made the transition to lead this mentor-ship it can be incredibly helpful. Mentor-ship will pay long term dividends to the company"


Former JMO Turned National Account Manager:


"Speaking personally, managers of transitioned JMOs should focus on the following: - Engage former JMOs on their career path. They have moved from an organization with a nearly linear career path to one with much more uncertainty. Develop them to plan for their own futures within your company - Give them authority, hold them accountable, and promote their successes for them. JMOs are more likely to believe in "keeping your head down and doing good work." This is very noble, but you must teach them how to tactfully and respectfully promote the good work they and their teams do. - Remind them of their peer leadership abilities, and encourage them to focus there. JMOs got more done during their service because of social skill than they ever did giving orders. Promote this ability, it is gold in the business world."


Former JMO Turned Business Professional:


"I think the most important aspect of any transition of JMOs into the civilian workforce is building up confidence. The military helps develop the skills and work ethic needed for successful civilian careers, it's often confidence that either propels that individual up the ladder or makes them stagnant. Advice to managers: - Understand the JMOs roles and responsibilities in the military: Often times managers do not ask or simply assume they know. Today's JMO's experience is different than those that served 10 years ago and probably even different than mine just 5 years back. Don't assume you understand the breadth and depth of their roles and responsibilities. Maybe it's asking the JMO to conduct a 30-minute presentation on his/her role(s) in the military to his/her co-workers. It's a great opportunity for the JMO to demonstrate his/her presentation skills and a good opportunity for his/her co-workers to learn more about what they did. I have rarely worked with any civilians that weren't interested in my Army career. - Provide challenging but attainable goals early into the process: This gets at building up confidence. Celebrate success and build momentum, just like in any change initiative. Provide clear guidance early into the transition with the understanding that once the individual learns the job he/she will be able to run with it."


Former JMO Turned Business Professional:


"The one thing about JMOs, at least in my case, is that I'm always aware of reporting structures and it influences the way I communicate with senior execs. For example, several colleagues I've worked with (non-JMOs) would easily approach our CEO and have a candid conversation or even complain about something. For me, I simply would never do that. I'm more comfortable with a formal presentation for a CEO. I'd encourage managers to help their JMOs get "face-time" with senior management because it's not going to be as easy through informal means."



Do your part to help our Veterans succeed.


On this Veteran’s Day and every day, take the time to understand how you can work better with the men and women that fought for our rights and freedom.  Their transition is unique and we owe it to them to build success together.



{#/pub/images/danphoto.jpg}Written by Dan Woods, Co-Founder ManagingAmericans.com

A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Dan has a strong background in business development, operations, project management and change management.  After serving five years in the Army Corps of Engineers, including worldwide assignments, he left the military and entered into the private sector.  With 10+ years in the Renewable Energy sector working for both startups and turnarounds for American, European and Asian conglomerates, he held positions as Director of Business Development and General Manager, as well as led multimillion-dollar projects as Project Director. Dan holds a B.S. in Economics, a Masters in Business Administration, and is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP).


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