by Emily King
Veterans bring tremendous functional skills and a rock solid work ethic to the civilian workforce. However, to make the most of this valuable talent, organizations may need to rethink how they on-board new hires. Former servicemembers need organizational context, in addition to information specific to mission and roles. Veterans are coming from a very strong culture, in which most processes and procedures are codified and explicit.
This may not be the case in your organization, so you want to practice making the implicit explicit, explaining things that may seem obvious to you as a long-time civilian, or to new hires coming from nonmilitary organizations. This has nothing to do with innate capability; it is all about the transition. While every organization’s culture and operations are different, those differences are small compared to the quantum difference between military culture and civilian culture.
Your on-boarding approach for veterans doesn’t have to be elaborate. The most important thing is that you give it some thought and advanced preparation. Here are eight great tips for on-boarding veterans; see how many apply more broadly to all new-hires, and consider making a few of them standard operating procedure:
- Assign a learning buddy. Before the employee’s first day on the job, assign someone to show him or her the ropes for the first few weeks. Remember, a lot of what you assume servicemembers will know from previous experience won’t apply, so position them for success early by anticipating needs.
- Assign a mentor. The military are a helpful bunch, especially when it comes to helping their own; your current employees who previously served will likely jump at the chance to mentor a ‘‘newbie.’’ Military organizations typically assign a mentor to junior personnel, so this is a comfortable role for veterans to take on. Ensure the roles of mentor and mentee are clear, with accountabilities in place to guarantee purposeful interaction and outcomes.
- Engage the family. Because military service is a 24/7 operation in which many live on the base where they work, the boundaries between work life and personal life overlap. The result is a strong sense of community that includes the whole family. Involving a veteran’s spouse can make a real difference when engaging new hires early. If you are taking a new hire to lunch on his first day, consider inviting his partner to join as well, and if orientation activities or materials can include the partner it will go a long way toward early engagement of the employee.
- Set expectations. The on-boarding process is a key opportunity to clarify expectations and organizational norms, and to prepare the service member for early success. Veterans come to you from a different world, culturally speaking, so make the implicit explicit. Explain the basic rules for when they should arrive for work, leave, take lunch breaks, the dress code, the office dos and don’ts, etc.
- Give a warm welcome. All too often, a new employee shows up on his or her first day only to be met with a blank stare as if no one knew they had been hired. The few minutes it takes to scurry around and find out who this new person is and where she’s supposed to go can make a lasting negative first impression, especially for a service member who may already feel like a bit of an outsider on day one. Start things off on the right foot by anticipating the veteran’s first day of employment and being prepared to receive him or her.
- Check in periodically. Chances are the nuts and bolts of accomplishing work at your organization are different from how work is accomplished in the military, so it is crucial to check in with the new employee periodically to gauge how things are going, answer questions, address concerns, check assumptions, and calibrate expectations. These touch points will help establish a strong personal connection and build engagement.
- Utilize the Manager’s Mid-Year Check-In. A Mid-Year Check-In is a quick and easy assessment tool for managers to gauge a new hire’s performance and fit before the first formal review. This opens the door to conversation about how the employee’s transition is progressing and what, if any, challenges or opportunities exist for which he or she may need guidance.
- Connect them to a community. Sponsor a forum such as an affiliation or networking group for employees who served in the military. This provides veterans with the sense of community they may miss, encourage networking and collaboration, and, build a bond to your organization.
Emily King, an expert on the transition from military service to civilian employment, is founder of the consulting firm Military Transitions. This article is adapted from her new book Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing & Retaining Veterans (AMACOM, November 2011).