By Steve Cloetingh
Veteran unemployment has dropped to 2.9 percent.
Some might point to government support as the reason for this accomplishment, but I believe it’s companies finally wising up. From their integrity to their expansive leadership experience, Veterans bring an array of valuable skills, qualities, and insights to any small business. In fact, 79 percent of hiring managers identified Veterans’ excellent qualifications, composure, productivity, skills, and leadership as the reasons they’re hired.
The trends and data are clear: What Veterans bring to the table will help your business in the long run. However, 65 percent of Veterans leave their first post-military job before their second work anniversary, serving as a call to action for businesses to first understand what it takes to retain a Veteran, before hiring one.
How a Veteran improves your small business
As a small business owner, you likely oversee employee hiring, and you know exactly what you’re looking for. Barring specific job requirements, your soft skills checklist likely boils down into three main characteristics: a great personality, natural leadership ability, and the flexibility to handle any task.
This describes every Veteran you’ll meet.
Veterans have an innate desire to serve, whether it’s giving back to their community or helping the small business they’re working for grow. This mindset of contributing to something greater than themselves, as they did in the military, will elevate any company culture you already have. When employees are doing meaningful work, they’re more willing to put in those extra hours sometimes demanded of them.
The military also teaches its service members to lead, no matter the rank. These men and women must work as a team to overcome any potential differences or disagreements without fail, ultimately creating a tight-knit unit. By hiring a Veteran, you’re onboarding a leader, one who will help other employees learn those same traits. Especially in small businesses where resources can be tight, most employees won’t get managerial training, making Veterans that much more valuable.
Through new deployments and assignments with unpredictable locations and missions, service members learn to adapt to any situation quickly and efficiently. Out of necessity, Veterans became fast thinkers. Even in times of stress or in the face of unexpected business scenarios, they keep a level head and assess every situation clearly. For small businesses that are always juggling numerous projects, a Veteran’s agile response could be the extra deftness that keeps those projects from crashing down.
What it takes to retain Veteran employees
While Veterans are a great fit for many businesses, some businesses are not a fit for Veterans.
Businesses owners often forget Veterans, like all employees, need the business’ support, including the owner’s. This might require adjusting their management and leadership style. For example, Veterans don’t always perform well when micromanaged. These retired service members are used to making important, sometimes life or death decisions, on their own, and Veterans need that same level of independence in their civilian work.
There’s often a communication gap to overcome as well. The military drills hierarchies into service members and operates solely through a chain of command, so Veterans can initially have a difficult time adjusting to the collaborative structure of many organizations. In addition, Veterans have a tendency to take suggestions literally, as they did orders. In a business environment, this can create confusion and friction between Veterans and their colleagues.
Lastly, sometimes Veterans will leave a business if they don’t find that opportunity to serve. This is more than volunteering once a year with the company—service needs to be ingrained in the fabric of the organization, the way it is in the military. This could mean creating a program for employees to spend a few of their weekly hours volunteering, or organizing opportunities to volunteer during lunch breaks. A claim to serve is not enough for Veterans, the culture needs to be steeped in it.
I can’t underscore enough the value Veterans bring to businesses, especially small businesses, where a Veteran’s drive to serve, leadership skills, and adaptability can make the most impact. However, business leaders must do their part to support Veteran employees by adjusting their own leadership styles, closing the communications gap, and providing opportunities for all their employees—not only Veterans—to serve.
Steve Cloetingh is the founder and CEO of Military Veteran Partners (www.militaryveteranpartners.com), an investment and advisory services firm investing in the people, ideas, and companies that create jobs and economic opportunities for our nation’s Veterans.