At a time long before organizations spoke of competency models and talent diversity and leadership pipelines, our military was building and executing talent strategies that established and sustained our great country as a beacon of light across the globe. Today we celebrate this “talent” and remind ourselves, as business leaders, of ways to apply what we have learned from them in today’s competitive environment … lessons about skills and values and diversity.
Those engaged in military service brought natural abilities with them, but with eyes wide open, they learned new skills that were applied immediately in military exercises or combat. My Dad, a WWII naval officer, was the official record-keeper for his ship, tracking the movement of resources into new roles, training activities, active leave, or completely new assignments. If you met a nice lady or a gentleman while the ship was docked for the weekend and were late returning to your post, you had a few words with my Dad!! He would later transfer those analytical and planning skills into his career as an IRS regional auditor and tax attorney. Companies should look at the military as a good example of how to incorporate skill development and action learning into their business. Emerging learning technologies, social media and gamification today present ways of learning and applying new skills that our military leaders would have eagerly embraced.
Business leaders talk about the importance of organizational culture, a breeding ground for the core values of an enterprise. As defined in the book Strategic Speed, an organization’s culture is “rooted in the values and assumptions that the organization’s founders embed in it from the beginning” and “one of the ways in which an organization preserves its identity and distinguishes itself from others”. Importantly, these values must be modeled by leadership and cascaded across the company, beginning with the recruiting process and continuing throughout their tenure. What better example can we find to demonstrate the development of cultural values than our military? Our forefathers embedded into our American culture the tenets of freedom and justice and bravery and respect, and our veterans celebrate today a holiday honoring their adherence to those values. What can organizations do in today’s business environment to create that level of engagement with a workforce that cuts across multiple generations? How can we better articulate, and then integrate, the values that define our business? These are the questions that, on a day like today, make you marvel at what our military has accomplished and what more companies “could” accomplish with focus and commitment.
Finally, we recognize the diversity of our veteran pool and the varied attitudes, backgrounds and perspectives that have contributed to the military goals of each campaign throughout our history. Diversity is a major driver of “agility”, defined as the distinct qualities that allow today’s organizations to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum or vision toward a common goal. In his critically acclaimed book The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw reminds us so poignantly of the varied (and often unrecognized) contributions of American servicemen and servicewomen representing the full melting pot of our great nation. The opportunity for today’s business leaders is to look at their own pools of talent and challenge the extent to which sufficient levels of diversity and creative thinking are addressing the key strategies of the business. Just as military units adapt and change course to address new priorities, our businesses must be populated with the breadth of talent to tackle the challenges of the day.
Indeed, we can learn much from today’s honorees. They have earned a level of respect and admiration that is noteworthy and can serve as a reminder of the many ways our businesses can compete and thrive. To the veterans of America’s past and present conflicts, including my Dad, we thank you for your service.