Unlocking the Value of Veterans in the Workplace

Glass walls and windows reflecting the dramatic sky. Modern different skyscrapers
Glass walls and windows reflecting the dramatic sky. Modern different skyscrapers

Every year at Veteran's Day we hear a lot about the need for companies to do a better job of recruiting veterans. The good news is that corporate outreach to veterans is working. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that corporate hiring of veterans has risen by 11% since 2011, the year the "VOW to Hire Heroes" Act passed. Since then, many companies have launched or expanded their veteran recruitment strategies. Companies are eager to scoop up veterans because of their maturity, technical skills, and leadership training.

However, companies are finding that getting veterans in the door is only the first step. Once inside, veterans face unique challenges that can set them apart from their civilian co-workers and limit their careers. By implementing transition programs for veterans that focus on these challenges, companies can play a crucial role in helping to ease veterans back into civilian life.

According to findings in the just-published book, Mission Critical: Unlocking the Value of Veterans in the Workplace, many highly skilled veterans report feeling underutilized, discouraged, or stalled in their careers. The book is based on a study by the Center for Talent Innovation of 1,022 veterans between the ages of 21 and 64 who are working full-time in white collar positions. In many cases, employers fail to understand veterans' strengths, and false assumptions about veterans in the workplace can impede their career progress. Of the veterans in the CTI study sample, for example, 64% say that they are not using the full complement of skills that they have to offer, and 38% say that senior leaders at their companies fail to grasp the extent of their potential. Almost half of the veterans polled say that colleagues hold incorrect ideas about them because they are veterans, and because of these stereotypes about veterans, many of them feel the need to "cover" while at work, hiding or downplaying their military service.

Differences between the military culture and the corporate culture can contribute to misunderstandings. For instance, while the military favors a direct style of communication and an authoritative chain of command, today's corporations are built around an inclusive style of communication and decision-making. To succeed in a corporate job, veterans must learn to translate their military skills and experience into civilian terms that their employers and coworkers can understand. For some, overcoming these challenges is no small feat.

I know firsthand that the transition to civilian life can be difficult. My path from Army Captain to a career in finance required adjustments in the way I communicated and in how I managed my life and career. While my Army training had prepared me to make life-and-death decisions, it had not taught me how to navigate the less-threatening situations that occur every day in an office environment. It took time for me to learn how to use listening and empathy to build consensus and to adapt to the different pace of the corporate environment. In time, I came to understand the civilian work style, while holding on to the best parts of my military leadership training and experience.

Today, as CFO for Moody's Corporation, I see firsthand the value that talented veterans offer to corporate employers, and I have an understanding of what employers can do to make the most of veterans' expertise. At Moody's we understand that veterans can contribute special skills to the civilian workplace and are working diligently to help our managers learn to be better coaches and mentors to the veterans in our company. We sponsor employee resource groups that have proven effective at bringing veterans and civilians together, fostering communication and dispelling stereotypes. We encourage the veterans among our senior managers to talk openly about their military service and how it has helped make them better managers. We actively seek to bring in transitioning veterans as interns and staff members, and we have our on-staff veterans serve as advocates for these newcomers.

For companies, the payoff to these strategies can be tremendous. Employers gain veterans' experience in leadership, team-building, and advanced problem-solving, skills that managers need and to which companies devote many training dollars. They also benefit from veteran's strong work ethic and their ability to get things done, no matter what the size of the organization. Importantly, today's service men and women also bring real-world experience in working alongside peers from across racial, socio-economic, and gender lines to accomplish shared goals. As an employer, the US military has long been at the forefront of our evolving understanding of civil rights and workplace equality.

Veterans deserve a chance to shine after their military service, and today's companies need their skills and talent. By taking smart steps to help ease vets' transition to civilian life, companies can unlock the full potential of veterans in the workplace. In return, our companies will become stronger and more productive.

Linda Huber has been Moody's Corporation's Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer since 2005. She held the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army, where she served from 1980 to 1984.