Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bringing Home the Troops – How We Can Help in Their Transition

As Operation Enduring Freedom winds down to some sort of a conclusion, many of our troops are coming home. And many of them are finishing up their military commitments and looking to transition to the civilian sector of our economy. This situation presents both an opportunity and a challenge.

Let me address first the challenge. For many of these soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - whose work experience has been primarily in the military – finding the first job in the private sector can be a daunting task. Many civilian employers often have a difficult time understanding how the skills these men and women honed as military leaders would translate to the skills required to succeed in the business world. From the vantage point of the men or women preparing to leave the military, they may have a limited understanding of the opportunities that are available to them, and little real understanding of what a “Brand Manager” does, or the kind of career path open to someone who answers a ad for the position of “Inside Sales Rep.”

That leads me to consider the opportunity. For those of us who are looking for concrete ways to support our troops, there are some very specific steps we can choose to take. We can educate the companies where we are working to reach out proactively to those who have been deployed and are now finishing their military service. We can offer to spend time with men and women in transition to make them aware of the opportunities available to them and the most effective paths to follow in pursuing those opportunities. We can help them to prepare a credible resume, and help them to prepare for interviews. We can introduce them to our network of contacts.

As I launch White Rhino Partners, my primary focus will continue to be to help client companies to find and hire gifted leaders at the senior executive level. But because I have a pipeline of relationships with many extraordinarily talented young men and women who have served as junior military officers, I am also going to establish a secondary practice of helping companies to identify gifted future leaders and get these young leaders hired and established on a career path that will eventually lead to senior executive level responsibilities.

Think about what a goldmine American businesses are now able to tap into – if they have the wisdom to know how to find the best nuggets. We have returning to our shores thousands of young officers who have been tested and purufued in the refiner’s fire. They have had life and death responsibilities; they have learned to make snap decisions based on the best available information and intelligence. They have learned to build teams and motivate those teams under trying circumstances. They have learned to execute orders, devise plans, leads troops under adverse conditions and rapidly changing environments, and they have learned to accept responsibility for their actions and the actions of those they lead. What company that is being led by visionary leaders would not value the opportunity to hire this kind of talent – young people who have developed maturity and responsibility far beyond their chronological age.

Keep in mind that the young leaders who are returning home are not a monolithic group – they are individuals with widely diversified skill sets and aspirations. Some are destined to go to graduate school. Some will make great sales professionals. Others will be able to use their logistics experience to help a company with its supply chain and manufacturing challenges. Others will find careers in banking, marketing, consulting. A few who are wired as entrepreneurs will strike out on their own and start their own businesses.

Many individuals have asked me: “What can I do to help?” Here is a short list:

1) If your company is looking to hire mature, young men and women who are teachable and responsible, create a way to tap into the pool of those who are returning. I would be happy to explore with your company how to identify specific kinds of talent. I am in conversation with some remarkable young men and women – many of whom are West Point or Annapolis graduates – who are ready to begin their careers in the business world. I would love to be able to introduce your company to some of these talented and eager leaders.

2) Use this time to think about succession planning, and use the timely availability of this uniquely qualified talent pool to build a bench of future leaders for your company – leaders who will be ready, willing and able to replace retiring Baby Boomers.

3) Make sure that your company is welcoming back and reaching out to those who have served in the National Guard and the Reserves. For many, they are returning to find that their jobs have disappeared while they were deployed and serving our nation. Justice and fairness demands that we welcome them home with jobs that offer appropriate levels of responsibility and opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you as we work together to deploy these valuable resources in ways that will continue to benefit our nation.


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