The Easiest Way to Infuse Creativity & Innovation into Your Organization: Hire Veterans!


Over the last few years I have witnessed an increase in organizations dedicated to helping military veterans transition back to the civil workforce. Most of them are as committed to the former service members as to facilitating the process. Others, however, see it as one more opportunity to profit from yet another government program.


Veterans have a myriad of abilities and talents, just like their civilian counterparts. Many people have tried to facilitate veterans’ reintegration into the civilian workforce with programs that translate those talents in ways that are easier for civilian employers to understand. However, this approach is not enough to provide a full picture and continues to drive the perception that veterans cannot adapt to the “new reality”. The situation is made worse by former military (I’ve encountered several) who proclaim to help, but are content with the status quo.


How can any professional, regardless of industry, look at the current HR processes and procedures and believe they’re working? Almost daily we read articles about how important fit, culture, EQ, etc., are to identifying and hiring the right people. It seems like every other week we hear about “The Best 7 EQ Questions,” or “5 Perfect Culture Questions” needed to identify the perfect candidate.


Obviously, the system and processes are broken. Perhaps the worst part is the fact that a society that reportedly craves innovation, creativity and thinking “outside the box” will consistently overlook the very pool of talented people who excels at creativity and thinking outside the box. The very same group could reenergize our every industry because of their tenacity to work a challenge until a way to prevail is found.


WARNING: Seeking creativity and resourcefulness? A perspective adjustment is required!


I suggest a new approach to facilitate our veterans’ return to the civilian workforce. We often hear the word “translate” used to explain the process of relating military talents and skills to civilian skills & jobs; therefore I will use the same analogy to make my case.


I possess native level fluency in English and Spanish and I understand a little (“skoshi”) Japanese. Many would correctly consider that an asset, but I want you to look deeper. The greatest advantage is not in knowing the words, but rather in the desire and ability to understand how others communicate their thoughts and ideas to me. This point is central to my argument, “I understand others better when I learn their language and how they communicate.”


As a leader, instructor, and communicator I craft my messages in the “language” that my audiences use and understand. I would be totally ineffective if, at the end of a lecture or speech, I am the only one with a clear picture or understanding. Therefore, if we endeavor to find the best talent, it would be advantageous to know and understand the veteran’s language as well as our own. This is not a one-way street. Civilian employers and HR professionals need to put as much effort into understanding veterans as they expect these valuable candidates to do.


Implementation is easier than it might sound. You likely already have veterans working among your ranks that can bridge the veteran candidates “language” gap today, without need for additional training or tools. Just point the way; they will know what to do. If you don’t have a veteran on staff already, hire one – for this specific purpose – and they’ll help you.


The list of talents a veteran brings to an organization is so extensive I will not attempt to list them all here. However, I do wish to highlight a few of the most significant and in most needed by “corporate America” today:


Positive Attitude – Our veterans do not see situations in the same light as civilians do, where good situations are blessings and bad ones are curses. We see only challenges to be overcome. Oftentimes, veterans are experienced enough to offer several courses of action and potential or even likely outcomes for each.


Adaptability – Veterans are comfortable working in groups of every size and adjusting to different roles, according to situational need. They are as comfortable taking a leadership role as they are working in a supportive role.


Versatility – Because veterans possess such varied talents and skills they are often able to serve in multiple roles simultaneously in support of a project or business goal. You are not likely to hear a veteran say: “Sorry, that is not in my job description”. They are not above learning new things or going the extra mile for team success.


Professionalism – Veterans are always looking for opportunities to grow and further develop their skills. Officers and enlisted alike receive formal leadership training during their career. They also get management development training according to their specialty.


Resourceful – Veterans pride themselves on their ability to find a way to get the job done. This is our American heritage! When it has mattered most we have thrown away the rulebook and found a new or unconventional way to achieve our goals as a nation. Look at our 240-year history; maintaining the status quo is not how we changed the world. This same spirit is alive and well in our veterans. You can visit any U.S. military unit, anywhere in the world, and you can be sure to hear, “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome!” as the rallying cry to meet a challenge.


The bottom line is this: If you are in business, you owe it to yourself and to your organization to consider veterans as an untapped well of innovation and creativity. You will find more value in them as individuals than can be articulated and represented in a resume or an interview, because your organization is starving for the intangibles your automated HR system cannot measure.


Trust me; the way forward is best described by the closing lines in the movie Demolition Man:


[Rob Schneider]                                           “What do we do now?

[Spartan to the Chief of Police]                 “Well you are going to get a little dirty…

[Spartan to criminal Eduard Friendly]      … you are going to get a lot cleaner…

[Spartan to both]                                           … and we’ll figure it out somewhere in the middle!”