Aug 14

Veterans Are Good Fit for Nonprofit Sector

Some time ago, I had the pleasure of meeting U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Eden Murrie as she was getting ready to step away from her military career.  She was contemplating her options and trying to assess how best to apply her talents and experience in a new career. Today, Murrie is Director of Government Transformation and Agency Partnerships at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. I asked for her thoughts on military transition into the nonprofit sector.eden-44rtlogo

VSB: What did you find most appealing about a post-military career in the nonprofit sector?

Murrie: The most appealing aspect of the nonprofit sector is the chance to further a career of service in support of missions that are bigger than any one individual or than the bottom line focus of the for-profit sector.   I am involved with several nonprofit organizations and the dedication, professionalism and passion of my new comrades is incredible.

VSB: How did you determine the nonprofit sector would be a good fit for you?

Murrie: First, I did a number of informational interviews with people working for nonprofits or serving on boards of non-profits.  These conversations gave me great insight into the challenges and opportunities facing nonprofits and perspective on what is typically expected of employees and board members.

I decided to take classes and received a certificate in fundraising management from the Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indiana University.  This allowed me to build connections with many nonprofit professionals who served in a variety of  positions in a wide range of organizations.  I not only learned a great deal from the professors but also from my classmates’ real life experiences in the sector.

We have to do more as a community, and as mission-driven leaders, to introduce ourselves to the nonprofit sector as creative thinkers who are able to innovate and find solutions to difficult problems using limited resources.

VSB: What do you see as the skills that transitioning military leaders have to offer that are most valued within the nonprofit sector?

Murrie: Former military leaders have direct leadership experience and bring talent and integrity that could be applied in a nonprofit organization as potential board members, chief executive officers or chief operating officers. These individuals have built experience and skills that can greatly strengthen a nonprofit organization’s operations and capacity. More specifically, former military leaders:

  • Have confronted resource challenges, personnel shortages, changing technology and shifting public policy priorities. To overcome these challenges, senior military leaders are adept strategic thinkers and change agents. They know how to operate in difficult economic times, helping their organizations to do more with less. These leaders know how to build a case to obtain resources to carry out the mission.
  • Are adept at building and sustaining relationships with internal and external stakeholders. They have extensive experience developing and communicating strategies and priorities to stakeholders and working with diverse teams to bring plans to fruition; they are skilled communicators and can relate well to a wide range of audiences including the Congress, the international community, industry and other non-governmental organizations.
  • Understand the importance of achieving the mission through collaborative decision-making and shared effort. They have had to integrate different perspectives and approaches to achieve their mission effectively and efficiently.  This involved collaborating, listening to diversity of opinion and recommendations, and then rolling up the shirtsleeves to lead the team to help get the job done.
  • Are able to remain calm under pressure and to think rapidly to find solutions to difficult problems using the limited resources at hand. They are trained to adapt to new job requirements, teams and cultures and are quick studies, rapidly learning their new organization’s unique challenges and opportunities.

Throughout our careers, we have applied our talents to make the best case for additional resources; we are ready to apply that experience to support a nonprofit organization’s fundraising efforts and mission.

VSB: What have you learned from your nonprofit board service?

MurrieEducation about the responsibilities of being a board member and about all facets of the organization is critical.  An uninterested or uneducated board can, unfortunately, let a good organization go down some very bad paths.

Just like for-profit entities, nonprofits organizations need guidance and oversight from their Boards of Directors.  A nonprofit’s fiscal and governance policies are very important, since these organizations are stewards of the donations they receive and must use those contributions for the purposes for which they are intended; contributors want to ensure their donations are used most effectively.

The board is critical is ensuring the brand and reputation of their respective nonprofit remains above reproach.

Additionally, board diversity in terms of race, gender, background, job experience, age etc is very important as differing perspectives on issues can lead to better solutions. 

VSB: Any surprises on your journey to date?

Murrie: I had more difficulty in entering the non-profit space than I anticipated.  While my military service and experience was respected and appreciated, several nonprofit institutions had some difficulty envisioning how these would be a good fit within a nonprofit’s culture or setting.

We have to do more as a community, and as mission-driven leaders, to introduce ourselves to the nonprofit sector as creative thinkers who are able to innovate and find solutions to difficult problems using limited resources.  Yes, veterans know how to take orders, but they are also quite talented at coming up with unique solutions to tackle the challenges at hand.

Throughout our careers, we have applied our talents to make the best case for additional resources; we are ready to apply that experience to support a nonprofit organization’s fundraising efforts and mission.  We are quick learners, know how to build relationships and have the capacity to learn additional fundraising basics in relatively short order – we just need the opportunity to demonstrate these talents on the job.

Jul 04

Military Leadership: What Comes Next

As veterans prepare to transition from military service into new civilian careers, many find it helpful to supplement any service-sponsored transition workshops they have taken with those offered by key veteran service organizations or by other entities that approach the career transition process from a somewhat different vantage point.

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Michael Hyter, the Office Managing Director with Korn Ferry. Mike and his colleague, Senior Client Partner and retired US Army Major General Randy Manner, were pleased to share their perspective regarding Korn Ferry’s Leveraging Military Leadership Program.

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Michael Hyter

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Randy Manner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VSB:  What is the Leveraging Military Leadership Program and how is it unique?

Hyter/Manner: A 2011 study by Syracuse University determined that about 80% of all transitioning veterans leave their first civilian position in less than 2 years. The reasons appear to be that veterans are inadequately prepared to explain and match their competencies to potential positions, and the personal impact of entering a significantly different culture from the deeply ingrained one characterized by military teamwork, service and sacrifice.

Korn Ferry’s Leveraging Military Leadership Program (LMLP) is uniquely designed to help bridge these gaps to help the veteran be happier and more successful in a civilian career.

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) mandated by Congress spends considerable time on helping veterans create their resume and develop traditional interviewing skills. Korn Ferry focuses earlier in the transition process by helping veterans increase awareness about their own passions and competencies as well as career possibilities in the civilian, education, and non-profit sectors.  After completing LMLP, veterans are able to clearly articulate their value proposition using competencies that potential recruiters, hiring managers, and others they meet through networking will understand and embrace.

Veterans must understand the values and attributes of the military service culture they are leaving behind. This is a non-trivial exercise because individuals are not typically able to identify those attributes of cultural values when deeply immersed within a culture. In addition, veterans must understand that they will not find a culture like it outside of the military. They must take steps to become aware of the cultural values of firms where they are considering employment, and adjust their expectations appropriately.

VSB: Any success stories from individuals who have gone through your transition course?

Manner: Here are a few perspectives of some of the veterans who have gone through LMLP:

“Korn Ferry’s LMLP is the only program I know of that focuses specifically on self-awareness: values, strengths, and passions, and how to approach your search for not only a second career but a meaningful life after the military. Too many programs skip over this step of self-knowledge, so as veterans we end up chasing either the paycheck or the responsibility or the comfort of what we did while we were in the military. I wish I had gone through this program before I got out; I might not be on my third job in two years.” – Hugo Lentze, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (ret)

“I participated in LMLP with less than one year to go before I retired from the Air Force. I did not have a solid idea of what I wanted to do following my transition and no idea at all of how to make that happen.  LMLP exposed me to the tools I needed to discover the values I wanted from an employer and the skills that I wanted to be hired for, this led me down the path to find the perfect job for me in the location of my choosing. I can’t recommend this program enough for veterans going through the transition process.” – John Oates, Colonel, US Air Force (ret)

“Just want to say my experience in the LMLP program was eye opening and enriching, having served 31 years in the military I didn’t know the first thing about what I really wanted to do after the Army. This program opened me up to a lot of opportunities. I now have a job with CACI as the lead engineer.” – Anthony Spicer, Command Sergeant Major, US Army (ret)

VSB: Mike, many senior military leaders in transition express an interest in joining a corporate board once they leave active duty. What do you see as the main skills they can contribute to a for-profit board of directors? How can they make themselves more competitive to secure those positions? What about nonprofit board service?

Hyter: Senior military leaders are collaborative team players committed to accomplishing the mission. They possess the following knowledge and skills which are applicable to for-profit and not- for-profit boards:

  • Leadership and organizational effectiveness from many years of helping organizations accomplish strategic and tactical missions.
  • Strategic budgeting with an ability to allocate limited resources to meet critical short-term and long-term objectives.
  • Organization strategy and structure in a dynamic environment.
  • Integrity and willingness to speak up on tough issues.
  • National security issue awareness and how these issues impact business success.
  • Government buying and contracting procedures.
  • Risk management and the tradeoffs required related to people, resources and processes.

VSB: From an employer’s perspective, how can those in transition from military service best distinguish themselves from their military and civilian counterparts in this competitive job market?

Hyter/ Manner:

There are four keys to success for the veteran to distinguish him or herself from others. In order to create a value proposition, veterans must:

  • Be truly aware of their passions and their competencies.
  • Understand and be able to simply explain their value proposition to prospective employers, providing examples of competencies without the use of military jargon.
  • Know the desired competencies of the positions they are pursuing; the better they understand them, the more effective they can be in explaining the power of their value proposition.
  • Veterans should not fret over “perfecting” a resume. A resume should “follow” the veteran after a call or meeting; there is very little value in flooding job web sites and firms with one’s resume.

VSB: Any other advice you’d like to share with military leaders approaching transition into the civilian workforce?

Hyter/ Manner: Two thoughts – one for veterans and one for employers:

Veterans must understand the values and attributes of the military service culture they are leaving behind. This is a non-trivial exercise because individuals are not typically able to identify those attributes of cultural values when deeply immersed within a culture. In addition, veterans must understand that they will not find a culture like it outside of the military. They must take steps to become aware of the cultural values of firms where they are considering employment, and adjust their expectations appropriately.

Employers can maximize the value veterans can bring to their firms by “meeting them half-way”. Examples include:

  • Training recruiters and hiring managers to understand the nuances of attracting and managing veterans
  • Identifying positions with required competencies which are very strong and prevalent among veterans
  • Conducting veteran training programs to more rapidly and effectively assimilate veterans into the culture and way of doing business within the firm
  • Providing veteran Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) as a forum for on-going support to help veterans achieve success in the company.

Applications are currently being accepted through August 1, 2016 to participate in the ninth LMLP cohort: https://kornferry.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9XBgZw8J3wBa94p

Michael C. Hyter is an Office Managing Director with Korn Ferry. In this role, Mr. Hyter leads Search, Korn Ferry Hay Group, and FutureStep for Korn Ferry’s Washington, DC and Reston, VA offices.
Randy Manner is Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry and a retired U.S. Army Major General. In addition to a distinguished military career, Manner previously served as vice president of American Management Systems and currently sits on a number of small company and veteran service organization advisory boards.

 

May 30

Post-Military Career Risks: Are You Ready?

Choosing the right path for your post-military career is a balancing act between many factors, including, but not limited to, your: interests, talents, financial needs, aversion to risk, family considerations, and the level of effort you are willing to put forward. All of these factors came into play for Lisa Wolford, a Marine Corps veteran, when she decided to launch her own small business in 1997. I asked Lisa, from her vantage point as President and CEO of Constellation West,  to share some of the most important lessons she has learned along the way:Lisa Wolford's Headshot - Red Suit

VSB:   While risk was an inevitable part of work while on active duty, many veterans may be uncertain about taking the risk to start their own company in civilian life. What made you decide to take that leap?

Wolford: When I started my firm, I worked 100% billing directly to customers for my technical expertise.  At the time, 19 years ago, I was an architect for Client/Server technology.  I was also a single mother of two children and understood the need to plan ahead. I knew I needed to save before starting the company and would need to save even more, in order to have a backup plan for a rainy day. I think veterans who are interested in starting their own business need to assess their comfort level with risk and overestimate what they will need in startup funds.  Timing and understanding the business environment, which includes technical acumen, are essential to determining when and where to position yourself in business.

Sometimes it is necessary to create your own opportunity.  A basic question you must answer is, “how much risk can you tolerate?”  A veteran, particularly with a family, should do the necessary planning to ensure that the family’s needs will be covered, either through a military pension, if the veteran has one, through savings, or through a spouse’s employment.

The level and type of stress you will experience from owning and managing a business is different from being an employee.  The time it takes to become profitable may be years.  If you are honest with yourself, and the ones closest to you who may be affected by your desire to start and run a business, you will be better prepared mentally and emotionally to survive unknown challenges in the early years of doing business.  An honest risk assessment related to finances is an important activity you can undertake prior to finalizing your commitment.

There are franchise opportunities that are open to veterans that can be quite successful, but may require some upfront investment. Some veterans choose to start a company as a part time endeavor which is a fine way to start out.  Not everyone is going to have the same solution or strategy; individual goals and family situations will usually inform the approach to risk.

The bottomline that made me decide to take the leap was that I had the technical and business capability appropriate to the business environment. To make a better life for my family for the long term, I decided the time was right to go out on my own.

VSB: You describe Constellation West employees as individuals with the following characteristics: Constant learners, committed, loyal, hard-working, adaptable, principled, problem-solvers, integrity, passionate about mission success and more. This is a good description of many military leaders preparing to leave active duty. As they compete with each other, and with their civilian counterparts for a great job in the private sector, how can transitioning service members further distinguish themselves to help them stand out from their competition?

Wolford: I want our veterans to remember that they are very special breed.  If they don’t get an offer from a firm that they would have liked to join, maybe that was a huge favor to them.  There are firms that will welcome a veteran and be excited to have them on their team.  In my firm,  about 42% of my employees are veterans.  We understand the value that they bring to the table.

Veterans should also understand that leadership in private industry can be different that in the military. In all cases, you must adapt and make yourself relevant.  Whether you’re an E-1 or O-10, you must adapt your skill set to remain relevant in a rapidly changing business environment.  Skills learned 2 years ago, let alone 20 years ago, may not suffice in today’s market.

Become a constant learner.  Whether you get advanced degrees, technical certifications, or just-in-time training, you further distinguish yourself by providing meaningful solutions that can be implemented in a timely and cost-appropriate manner.  Keep your knowledge up to date with the audience (prospective employers, co-workers, teammates) and be able to communicate important and key elements to decision makers.  You distinguish yourself by being relevant.

Whether you’re an E-1 or O-10, you must adapt your skill set to remain relevant in a rapidly changing business environment.

VSB: Leaving behind a team and structure so integral to military service can be among the greatest challenges in adapting to the civilian workplace. What advice would you give to help military leaders in transition reframe their thinking about how teams form and operate in the private sector?

Wolford: One of the best skills I have honed is to leverage the strengths of others.  That means I have to listen, observe, ask questions, and challenge people.  The best solution does not always come from the first or loudest to speak.  I leverage the strength of those individuals or companies who can fill gaps in my understanding of technology, business, and the customer.

As a transitioning military leader, the approach you used in military may, or may not, work in the private sector.  Leave your rank at the door.  You do not need your military rank on your business card.  What you need is information that will allow you to assist someone else in meeting his or her need.  He, or she, will be looking for someone who listens, understands and can present a feasible solution, both technically and fiscally.

You do not need your military rank on your business card.  What you need is information that will allow you to assist someone else in meeting his or her need.

Finally, remember your potential employer, teammate, and customers have choices; they want to work with someone they like or with whom they can get along. Know what your customer needs and, if you can, meet that need; if you cannot meet that need, do not enter into a relationship or contract when you are in a weak position.  Know what you cannot change; have the courage to change the things you can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Leverage your strengths and the strengths of others.

VSB: Any other advice you’d like to share?

Wolford: Sometimes you need to reinvent yourself; that often starts with attitude, a good support system that can deliver effective feedback, and the ability to change your thinking.  Leverage the strengths of others, along with your own strengths, to make a meaningful and positive difference in the business environment and in the lives of others.  Get some informal mentors – you can have more than one; and never stop learning.

 

Lisa Wolford is President and CEO of Constellation West, founding the company in 1997. As a service-disabled, veteran-owned, woman-owned, small business, her company is focused on delivering top cyber security, agile development, and IT systems solutions to help federal agencies tackle their toughest challenges.

 

May 07

Veterans and Executives Tackle Challenge Together

Christian-AnschuetzAs military leaders transition into the civilian workforce, it is not uncommon to hear both an employer and the hired veteran express frustrations that may stem from a disconnect in culture and understanding. Rarely is this due to the veteran’s lack of hard skills; instead, it more likely reflects the different paths and experiences that brought the veteran and the employer to their current roles.

I recently had the opportunity to connect with a very driven and dedicated corporate leader with a passion to instill greater understanding between veterans and corporate leadership by working together to overcome shared challenges.  Christian Anschuetz chairs the newly-created Project RELO which he describes in greater detail below:

VSB: Christian, what made you decide to launch Project RELO?

Anschuetz: Since leaving the Marine Corps as a Captain in 1997, I have had a varied and rewarding post-military career in the private sector. Sadly, my experience and career trajectory is atypical.  I know very few peer executives that have served in our armed forces.  I do, however, know many a veteran (both officer and enlisted) that has struggled to find a career in corporate America after leaving the military.

The reasons are numerous – from inaccurate mental models that typecast military members as hardcore command and control operators – to the stigma of PTSD which so many wrongly assume all vets now suffer.  Still, the most omnipresent issue is that corporations fail to understand the wealth and nature of experience that our vets possess.  And with HR policies and practices that immediately screen out those lacking college degrees and “appropriate” industry experience, many veterans find themselves swimming upstream.

There are many nonprofit organizations established to serve the veteran community; there are precious few that are working to help companies realize that they can build a better business if they infuse their workforce with the skills, background and character offered by our vets.

We sought to address this need using a unique approach to bring talent-hungry firms together with this great, under utilized, pool of talent – our veterans.  Project RELO was the result.

Project RELO aspires to transform corporate America’s perspective on the value and character of our veterans through intensive and immersive business leadership training exercises.

Project RELO aspires to transform corporate America’s perspective on the value and character of our veterans through intensive and immersive business leadership training exercises.  We do this by pairing small teams of executives with transitioning vets using an exhilarating, outdoor and off-road leadership curriculum.  Run like a military operation, participants bond over both scripted and unscripted adversity, forging deep and meaningful relationships as they are forced to rely upon one another to achieve shared objectives.

The veterans, domain experts in these environments, capably demonstrate their knowledge, selflessness, mission orientation and ethic, giving corporate executives the chance to experience this first-hand, and bringing about a gradual change in mindset about the quality and capacity of our veterans.

When the Project RELO exercise is completed, participants are presented with the profiles of 100 veterans they will collectively commit to place in their network.  With the intent of ensuring that as many of the 100 vets are hired, the newly formed network collaborates with the new understanding…that hiring a vet is more than a social good, it is simply good business.

Since our formal inception at the beginning of this year, we have attracted representatives from both large enterprises and mid-market firms; these include participants from Microsoft, LinkedIn, Northwestern Mutual, RL Canning, and others.  And, of course, we are just getting started.

VSB: How would you describe Project RELO and the impact this experience has had on those who participate?

Anschuetz: Project RELO can be described in several ways, yet two of my favorite descriptions are:

As a relationship boot camp – where low level adversity (although perceived adversity ranges from moderate to high) combined with environmental conditions, create a natural, immediate chemistry and “glue” that forges lasting bonds between participants that carry forward into their personal and professional lives.

Second, it is also an executive and veteran confidence course. Business leaders find pride and satisfaction in overcoming the challenges that occur naturally as part of a Project RELO mission. In our everyday lives, we rarely experience negative physical consequences of poor decisions, inaction, or failing to heed the advice of a team member in our respective workplaces.  On our missions, however, people can get cold, wet, or hungry if they fail to work with, and listen to, the collective team.  Overcoming these challenges during the Project RELO mission creates a strong sense of accomplishment and builds executive confidence.

Participating veterans may initially see business leaders and ask “What do I have to offer them?” During a Project RELO mission, veterans’ domain expertise allows them to help the executives navigate some of the challenges they face.  This demonstrates to the vets, in a palpable and direct fashion, that they do, in fact, have a lot to offer these private sector leaders.  And, of course, the conditions and environment warrant that the veterans see the business leaders simply as the people that they really are.  This demystifies the corporate executives, builds veterans’ confidence in their ability to interact with people of such position in the future and helps vets lessen their “fears” of the interview process.

We have seen tangible, meaningful acknowledgement by executive participants that they now possess an entirely new appreciation for our veterans.  Stated many times over that “I am just amazed at the competence and helpfulness of our veteran team member”, or “our transitioning vet could figure out the answer to any problem we encountered”.  And best yet, “I need to hire people like these vets into my company”.  The end result is the realization that the selflessness, mission orientation, and skill of our vets are valuable in virtually every context.

The end result is the realization that the selflessness, mission orientation, and skill of our vets are valuable in virtually every context.

Since our two Project RELO proof of concept missions in 2015, connections between participants continue.  For veterans and business leaders alike, virtually all have stayed in regular contact with one another.  On the business front, three businesses that had never done any work together before have recently inked a strategic partnership designed to give them a better position in the marketplace; this further illustrates that Project RELO is doing more than a social good… it is simply good business.

VSB: How do you think military leaders in transition can help dispel the myths that travel with them to job interviews or once they are in the workforce?

Anschuetz: There are a few basic things that veterans can do to help them land civilian careers.  I would advise vets to consider the following:

  1. Drop the jargon: Avoid acronyms and military lingo; it is often a put-off and/or intimidating.
  2. It’s all about relevance – Clearly state the relevant experience and background that you have; align it specifically to what the target audience needs. And do this fast.
  3. Skip the “sirs” and “ma’ams” – Similar to jargon, the use of this manner of speech comes off as foreign to most interviewers and employment prospects.
  4. Lead with loyalty and team – While corporate America struggles with both, hiring managers want to hire those that will be loyal.  Ensure that comes out.
  5. Maintain and infuse your pride – Be proud of your service to our country, and convey that passion and earnestness to would-be employers.  Firms and hiring managers want people that believe in what they do.  Show them you have a track record in that department.
  6. It’s all about the “mission” – In the end, employers want to hire people that get <stuff> done. Illustrate your track record of overcoming significant obstacles through your use of creativity and ingenuity; describe cases where, despite the odds, you achieved important outcomes or milestone. (Just remember to avoid the jargon!)

More strategically, I would ask veterans to immediately begin building their civilian professional network. This can be started long before a military member leaves the service as everyone is fully able to maintain contact with those that separate before them.  By seeking out, and connecting with, business leaders who are also veterans they can build a network that could help ease their transition from an employment perspective. I know I personally take calls from former Marines who reach out to me.  Semper Fi is forever.

VSB: Project RELO suggests that firms hire for character – what does that mean?

Anschuetz: We propose that hiring managers and veterans start their discussions around the topic of character. The reason is that, while 90+% of hiring decision are made based on some technical qualification (college degree, years of industry experience, etc.), 90+% of terminations from a firm are the result of character failure (poor work ethic, integrity issues, inability to team, et al).  Firms that hire for character first get better employees, pure and simple.

At Project RELO, we have moved away from the traditional resume and have moved to what we call the Character Profile.  This approach allows vets to relate their character AND experience in a fashion that intuitively makes sense to readers while highlighting that which makes them a valuable asset. Among other things, the character profile enables vets to highlight what they know, the skills and talents they use to achieve success, lessons learned and what they can do to help a would-be employer.

VSB: For those companies unable to participate in the team-building experience through Project RELO, what advice would you provide to help build greater team orientation within the workplace?

Anschuetz: In addition to direction participation, there are three avenues through which to support this cause and purpose:

First, we welcome interested firms to take a pledge to help us engage transitioning vets. Specifically, Project RELO and our partner, Hire Heroes USA, will supply businesses with prepared resumes that firms can use to source talent for new or open positions.  By taking the pledge, a firm simply commits that it will engage some number of veterans (as determined by the firm itself), hire those they are able, and / or provide us with feedback as to how our vet applicants can improve their chances going forward and with their next potential employer.

Project RELO is also developing the capability to provide “Fused Leadership”, onsite training. By taking great examples of both corporate and military leaders, and fusing them into a single coherent program, Project RELO endeavors to help organizations improve their overall leadership skills while simultaneously highlighting the talent pool found with our veterans.

Lastly, we continue to seek corporate sponsorships to enable us to continue our work. We are a 100% volunteer-operated organization and completely self-funded.  Funds that are eventually raised in 2016 will enable us to expand the program beyond its current operations in Michigan. If your company is interested in becoming a part of this program, please reach out and let us know. Visit us at www.projectrelo.org to learn more.

Christian Anschuetz is Chairman of Project RELO and is a two-tour active duty veteran of the United States Marine Corps.  He currently serves as CIO of Underwriters Laboratories outside of Chicago.

Apr 21

Thinking about Retirement from the Workforce?

The decision to fully retire from the workforce should be made consciously and what that looks like may vary greatly, from person to person.  There are any number of factors that play into the decision and that can greatly impact one’s quality of life, relationships, as well as sense of purpose.

My colleague, retired Navy Captain Jim Carman, who currently serves as director of the Military Officers Association of America’s Transition Center, recently provided some food for thought on this question in MOAA’s Career Networking group on LinkedIn; his advice is reprinted here with his permission.

The Decision to Go Bye-bye

Jim CarmanOne of the most frequently asked questions is when to hang up your neck tie for the last time and say bye-bye to your day job?  There are no easy answers to this multi-faceted question.

My father-in-law stopped working at 52, and he enjoyed a full life until almost 89.  He never had an ounce of regret over his decision to quit early.  By contrast, I have a good friend who is a very youthful 76 and enjoys the structure, identity and contribution he makes through his day job.  He is also helping to incubate a start-up business and shuttles between homes in Florida and New England in his off time.  He is very good at his job and makes a difference for his clients every day.  Moreover, he tells me that his friends who retired in their 60s and used to roll their eyes over his decision to continue in full-time employment now view him with a degree of admiration for his meaningful role in the active workforce.

The decision to retire should not be made on impulse and must acknowledge that your retired years may outnumber your working years.

Based on discussions with a number of clients over the years, I think the decision to retire has four main elements: health, wealth, plans and job.

  • Retiring early will capture for your personal use some of the best years you have left.  Further, there’s a large body of evidence that suggests if you make it to 60 without any major medical issues and no family history of premature death, then you are very likely to live well into your 90s.  Certainly health conditions can change in an instant, but I’m comforted by the good longevity genes on both sides of my family.  Also, experts agree that psychological health can impact your physical health.  Retiring in your 50s or 60s may lead to a lack of intellectual engagement, which is critical for good health.
  • The slow-growing economy and low interest rates of the 2010s are straining many investment portfolios.  Accordingly, an annual withdrawal rate of more than four or five percent will probably deplete your principle before you reach your life expectancy.  Additionally, it’s difficult for many people to live comfortably in retirement on less than 80 percent of their current income.  If you think this number sounds high, consider the things you might like to do for your children and grandchildren.  These numbers get even more challenging if you shift your assets to a more conservative portfolio allocation of 40 percent stock and 60 percent fixed income investments.  Just 50 percent of working adults say they expect to have enough money to live comfortably in retirement based on recent polling and 71 percent of non-retired adults with postgraduate education in the same polling say they expect to work in retirement.
  • What do you expect to do with your time in retirement?  My father-in-law could play golf four or five times a week and enjoy every minute on the course.  Conversely, I have difficulty imagining life without the intellectual stimulation, cross-generational exposure and opportunity for continued growth provided by a day job.  My military career afforded the opportunity for my wife and me to see much of the world, and our only frustration with our present situation is fewer opportunities to share experiences with our far-flung children and grandchildren.  If you have plans that require long time commitments and the disposable income to support frequent travel, then you may be a good candidate for early retirement.
  • Do you have unfulfilled ambition or a strong desire to continue having impact?  If so, recognize that many employers will be concerned about investing in a candidate in his or her 60s, and your best option may be to continue growing where you’re currently planted.  If you elect to consider new opportunities, you will be competing with candidates young enough to be your children.  Demonstrating a high level of energy, a familiarity with technology and an openness to new ideas will be crucial skills in the interview process or to continue growing in your current organization.  If you plan to continue working, expect to crank up your game a notch to avoid the deadwood designation.

The decision to retire should not be made on impulse and must acknowledge that your retired years may outnumber your working years.  As you ponder retirement possibilities, seek the advice people you trust, your mentors and people who are living every day with their retirement decisions.  Continued participation in the workforce or through a range of volunteer pursuits may help you stay mentally sharp, socially engaged and more secure financially.

Jim Carman is a graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Director of MOAA’s Transition Center.

Mar 22

Find Common Ground to Smooth Workplace Transition

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Dr. Fred Mael is an industrial organizational psychologist who has talked about the shock that veterans may experience, coming from a team-oriented culture, when they encounter new civilian colleagues who seem more self-focused rather than focused on the enterprise as a whole. I asked Dr. Mael to share his perspective on this and other related issues with Military Leaders in Transition.

VSB: Dr. Mael, how can transitioning military leaders become better prepared to succeed in a civilian workforce environment that at times may appear to “devalue teamwork” and instead tend to reward individually-focused and rewarded effort?

MAEL: Serving in the military often (though not always) involves working under intense conditions, living in close proximity with coworkers, and undergoing traumatic and/or exhilarating experiences together. The possibility of sacrificing one’s life for other team members intensifies the team experience. Officers who leave military service often say that what they miss most about military life is the teamwork and camaraderie, as well as the patriotism and higher purpose.

It is a natural human characteristic to want to identify with a higher purpose and to be embedded with others in common cause – however those who join the military for extended periods are probably on the high end of these needs.

The typical civilian work place cannot adequately satisfy these needs. The purpose of the work is more mundane, the stakes are lower, and coworkers, even competent ones, may be less invested in the “cause”. People work a set number of hours and then scatter into their different non-work worlds – that is, if they even come to a communal office at all. Trends toward telework, reliance on virtual teams, and electronic communication can increase feelings of isolation and depersonalization of relationships. There may be some room to inject a degree of teamwork but, except in rare cases, it won’t be the same as the team experience in military service.

Transitioning military leaders should be prepared to understand and accept that:

  • civilian coworkers have equivocal commitment to the work organization (they will leave for better jobs);
  • the work organization has equivocal commitment to the employees; in the private sector, they may hire you today, but let you go next week if they so choose.

 

The purpose of the work (in the civilian workplace) is more mundane, the stakes are lower, and coworkers, even competent ones, may be less invested in the “cause”. …Trends toward telework, reliance on virtual teams, and electronic communication can increase feelings of isolation and depersonalization of relationships. There may be some room to inject a degree of teamwork but, except in rare cases, it won’t be the same as the team experience in military service.

VSB: Some would suggest that the longer one has served in the military, the harder it can be to find new purpose and focus in a second career. What are your thoughts about that?

MAEL: Transitioning senior military leaders will likely be entering a civilian workplace in which their new co-workers do not necessarily understand nor fully appreciate past military accomplishments. Subordinates and peers in the new environment may be unaccustomed to hierarchy, obedience and may have a completely different set of values from those shared in military life.

It is essential that transitioning service members take time to understand and learn the value system of new colleagues and subordinates. Make the effort to find commonalities that exist and establish a common frame of reference. Demonstrating your competence can go a long way to win new colleagues over, even if you think your seniority and experience should speak for themselves.

VSB: You have talked about the need for transitioning veterans to find outlets, outside of the military, “to express their higher values of teamwork and altruism.” Would you elaborate on what this means and why it is so essential?

MAEL: A person needs to know themselves – their personalities, their hierarchy of values, and what will give them purpose. Some veterans may find the lack of team-orientation a relief and smoothly transfer their life goals into making a good living and enjoying recreation. Others may find that working for a nonprofit captures some of the altruism though it may still lack the cohesive bonds of military life. For some, the workplace will never be enough and other options – such as religious involvement, volunteering and/or political activity – will be needed to satisfy higher order needs.

VSB: Any other advice you might share with senior military leaders in transition?

MAEL: Many civilian coworkers will have never met anyone who served in the military, much less in uniform. Depending on age, gender, or political views, they may react to you with awe, guilt, disinterest, or disdain. Be prepared to win people over in terms that are relevant to them. Ask questions of co-workers and do your best to understand their value system. You do not have to accept their values as yours but you will want to exhibit empathy, the ability to see the world from another’s viewpoint. You have already done this as a leader – it just means expanding the scope of this skill.

Dr. Fred Mael has worked as a consultant for over 25 years, including applied research, and project management in areas such as organizational culture, employee and customer loyalty, best practices studies, and development of performance management systems.  He worked for the US Army as a researcher/manager for eight years and has been a consultant to private and public sector organizations including the US Army, US Navy, and US Air Force.

Dec 05

Finding Peace of Mind during the Holidays

The holiday season may be a time for social gatherings, parties and glittering decorations, but in spite of being surrounded by family and neighbors, this time of year can leave transitioning military members feeling isolated and out of sorts. The music, the chatter and some of the more superficial commercial aspects of the holidays can be at complete odds with what a veteran returning to civilian life may be feeling on the inside. This can be compounded by a lull in the job search process, as many prospective employers wind down their interviewing and recruiting until after the New Year.

It is important to recognize your own needs and to find ways to make meaningful connections during this especially stressful time of year:

Let those closest to you know that you may need to occasionally step away from large gatherings to focus on conversations in a quieter space with just one or two people. They may not immediately understand why you are gravitating away from the crowd.

  • Reach out in person, via Skype or by phone or email with former military colleagues to say hello and to ask how they are doing. Reconnecting with them will remind you they still “have your six” even if they are not physically nearby.
  • Revisit your spiritual needs, whatever that means to you, to rebuild connection to what grounds you in your life.
  • Give yourself time for introspection and meditation, not just “zoning out” in front of a videogame or watching endless hours of reruns. Take a walk, go work out, take a deep breath of fresh air.
  • Volunteer your time to help others who need help. Shoveling an elderly neighbor’s driveway, organizing a food drive, or providing another community service are all ways to reinvigorate your sense of purpose and are reminders that you still have much to contribute.

Most importantly, don’t lock yourself in the cave. Reach out and reconnect. Help those you trust understand how you feel; they can’t read your mind.

For those who know a veteran in transition, a great way to lend support beyond expressing thanks for their service to country, is to reach out during the holiday season and throughout the year to ask “How can I serve you?”  or “What can I do that would be most helpful to you as you transition to civilian life?” The veteran may not always have an answer to your question, but what matters is that you asked and are ready to lend them your time and support.

Sep 24

Opening the Door to the Private Sector

There are many ways to begin making connections and building your network inside the private sector.  The best case scenario typically involves reaching out to someone you know – perhaps a former military colleague or a neighbor – working at a company of particular interest to you.

Social media offers another avenue to do research and scout out potential points of contact in your target industry.

And of course, attending select career fairs and other veteran service organization events that offer a chance to meet with private sector representatives provide a way to meet face-to-face with individuals in the sectors of interest to you.

Another effective strategy is to tap into area chambers of commerce and other key business organizations with programs and networking opportunities specifically designed for veterans. Many groups are looking for ways to connect with veterans, highlight job opportunities, offer mentoring and other support. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t always reach their intended target audience, in part because veterans don’t always recognize these groups as an important avenue to explore during the transition process.

One example in the Northern Virginia area is the Veterans’ Employment Initiative launched by the Northern Virginia Technology Council. You can find out more about this organization’s efforts to connect transitioning military leaders with private sector opportunities by visiting http://bit.ly/1jdKTRq

Across the country, local business organizations are stepping up to lend support and open pathways. Whether you are interested in starting your own small business, seeking to connect with a major employer in your region or looking for a place to begin building business connections, it makes sense to explore organizations in your area to learn more about what they offer and consider, in turn, what you might offer them. For example, you might offer to serve on a chamber committee or to lend a hand at one of their networking events. This gives you direct interaction time with the organization’s membership and a chance to become more familiar with staff and the organization’s leadership.

If you are interested in exploring the private sector as a second career, do your homework and take the time to reach out to area business groups; you may be surprised at the doors that might open as you seek out a new career niche in the corporate world.

May 18

Remain Open to the Possibilities

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Retired senior military leaders in transition often find it helpful to consider key drivers that may affect second career choices. Is it that sense of purpose, a greater work-life balance, a time to recommit to family or a geographic commitment that may shape what happens next?
These were just some of the factors that played into retired Rear Admiral Mary Landry’s decision-making process before she accepted a position in the Senior Executive Service in the U.S. Coast Guard.
VSB: After a long career in the U.S. Coast Guard, how did it feel to return as a member of the Senior Executive Service several months later? Were there any surprises?
Landry: Returning to the Senior Executive Service less than a year after military retirement is not something I had planned ahead of time. I had a very specific reason for retiring. I had promised our daughter that I would attend every ice hockey game of her senior year playing for Brown University. My husband and I had both missed events in our children’s lives because of the demands of our military career, and I was determined to have this last opportunity.
When the Coast Guard called about the posting of this new SES position, I did the math of how long the hiring process might take and knew I could make it through hockey season. So I guess my surprise was that I was back at work in less than a year. What also surprised me was how different it is to be a civilian because there is more of a sense of permanence as opposed to the military where you transfer every two to four years. It is not to say that you may not move as a civilian, but you have a little more control of your destiny.
VSB: What advice would you share with others contemplating entry into the Senior Executive Service?
 
Landry: I strongly encourage other retired military members to consider the Senior Executive Service. It is the same “purposeful” work and gives you a chance to be part of a team of professionals committed to public service. I am not trying to sound trite here. If you are someone who enjoys a sense of purpose and can be patient with certain aspects of the bureaucracy, such as restricted budgets and the length of time it sometimes takes to gain consensus on policy or regulation, you will be glad you came back.  It is a very easy transition because you already understand how government works and you can hit the deck running.
VSB: How can women coming up the ranks in the military or in federal government best prepare themselves for senior leadership positions?
 
Landry: The best way for women to prepare themselves for senior leadership in the military and federal government is to continue to seek out positions of greater responsibility and to not underestimate themselves. Sometimes women are their own worst enemy when it comes to judging their own qualifications and believing they can do the job. Also, if for some reason they end up in a position that is less career enhancing, they should look for additional responsibilities such as volunteering for a collateral duty project.
My husband and I literally agreed to alternate tours and take turns with our assignments. His tour had first preference on one assignment and mine, the next. If the other person could also find a career enhancing assignment, then it was a bonus, but each of us had to be flexible. I remember thinking I would never make O5 when I followed Mark to a command tour. I volunteered for additional duties and the next thing you know, my unit reorganized and I became the most junior department head because what I volunteered to do became part of the reorganization and I moved up with it.
 
I would also suggest that women focus on what I would call “optionality”. Don’t look at any situation as an “end all” to advancing. Keep your nose to the grindstone and make the best of the given situation. Leave yourself open to any possibility that may be just around the corner. If you let a situation drag you down and lose sight of the rewards that come with executive leadership, you sell yourself short as a contender. Whatever current challenge you are experiencing feeds into that richness of experience that makes you a better leader, rather than disqualifying you.
VSB: If you knew earlier in your career what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
 
Landry: I love this question, but I have to say that I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. I have been blessed with a wonderful family, a rich career, and very good health. I would just offer the advice “know thyself”. Each person is different and you really need to understand who you are. There is no single right way to do things or to find balance in life, it is all about knowing what works for you. The earlier you learn that, the better chance you have of traveling the journey without a lot of regrets.
Retired USCG Rear Admiral Mary Landry is a member of the Senior Executive Service and holds the position of Director of Incident Management and Preparedness at the U.S. Coast Guard. As a Flag Officer, Landry served as Director of Governmental and Public Affairs and as District Commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District. In that capacity, she served as Federal On-Scene Coordinator in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Mar 18

Becoming an Executive in the Nonprofit Sector

jgrahamJohn H. Graham IV served the American Diabetes Association for 24 years, the last thirteen as Chief Executive Officer. Today, John serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of ASAE, the center for association leadership ( www.asaecenter.org )  ASAE includes more than 21,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations in the United States and around the world.

I asked John to provide his perspective on the association/nonprofit world for those considering a career transition into this sector.

VSB: John, what do you see as the key skill sets needed to be a successful association executive?

Graham: Association management is not rocket science.  To be proficient, it requires knowing a little bit about numerous areas including public affairs, communications, non-profit finance, sponsorships, meetings, tradeshows and technology.  However, the most important skill is a high EQ and being able to be a servant leader putting volunteer leaders first.

 Association management is not rocket science…the most important skill is a high EQ and being able to be a servant leader putting volunteer leaders first.

VSB: Those new to leadership in the nonprofit sector may not realize there are many different types of organizations. What are some of the important distinctions between leadership of a membership association versus leadership of a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization? Are there any similarities of note?

Graham: There are broadly three types of volunteer organizations:  charitable (American Red Cross), individual membership (American Bar Association) and trade associations (American Plastics Council).

  • Charitable organizations usually focus on a specific cause and tend to be dependent on, and engaged with, volunteers in addition to maintaining a paid staff. They typically rely on contributions from individuals, foundations and other grants for support.
  • Individual membership or professional societies focus on a given profession and rely on active volunteer leadership to ensure the organization is as effective as possible. Membership and event dues often provide the backbone of financial support.
  • Trade associations generally tend to focus on advocacy for an industry and require little volunteer engagement other than around governance. Financial support is provided by the companies that belong to the trade association.

Each of the three types have boards of directors and committees that focus in on specific areas of importance to the organization.

 

VSB: What additional guidance would you like to share with senior leaders retiring from military service who are thinking about a second career as an association executive or perhaps taking on a volunteer role as a nonprofit board member?

Graham: Serving on a non-profit board and being as staff member are two very different paths.  Becoming an association executive is a career choice that can be very rewarding but it is a definitive career path.  Board service is an avocation and, within the nonprofit sector, is typically an unpaid opportunity.

 

VSB: Does ASAE Center offer any resources that might be useful to military leaders exploring a transition into the nonprofit sector?

Graham: ASAE has a micro site called Career HQ which helps interested people navigate jobs in associations.  http://www.asaecenter.org/Career/careerhq.cfm

 

VSB: What about getting a Certified Association Executive credential?

Graham: Among association leaders, the CAE designation has become known and appreciated as a mark of distinction that offers a wide range of benefits.

Individuals pursue the CAE for a variety of reasons, including professional development, career planning and professional pride, dedication to their career, a personal belief in the association profession, and self-fulfillment.

At the same time, individuals cannot sit for the CAE exam until they have five or more years of experience as an executive working in an association.

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