Military-Experienced Executives Series: Bob Wilt

Bob Wilt, Executive Vice President for a Fortune 150 Company, is an executive leader who has led companies through good times and bad. He is also an Iraq combat veteran, graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and Harvard Business School. When Bob graciously agreed to share his time with HireMilitaryBlog.com for an installment of the Military-Experienced Executives Series, we discussed his insight on executive business leadership through the military-experienced lens.

Q: What is the biggest misconception about hiring West Point Graduates, or military officers, into industry?

Military-Experienced Executives Series“That military leaders are one-dimensional leaders. Sure, we need aspects of that in some situations, but most military leaders are mature personalities who escalate actions only when absolutely necessary. They typically operate by consensus-building rather than the command-and-control stereotype,” Bob said.

I mentioned that I also hear from prospective employers that military-experienced leaders are limited by procedures and are not free thinkers. Bob was quick to mention, “The officers leading in Iraq and Afghanistan are dealing with multifaceted and hugely complex issues with multiple stakeholders. There are no procedures for what to do – they are writing the procedures as they go.” We agreed that if a business needs someone to create the procedures, improve the procedures or direct the procedures, a military-experienced leader is uniquely qualified.

Q: What is the biggest leadership lesson you learned at West Point that you have applied to business decisions?

Bob said he learned to take care of his personnel with integrity. Bob recalled a situation where there was to be a restructuring of their business that unfortunately led to the layoff of thousands. “I had to make the tough call and let our people know what I knew when I knew it,” Bob said. He felt that his team needed to know the news that was coming as soon as possible so they could make life decisions with as much information as was known at a given time. Bob strives to build credibility through acting with integrity, a philosophy that he learned at West Point.

Q: What did Harvard Business School teach you that was contrary to West Point’s teachings?

Bob explained, “Most of what was taught complimented West Point when it came to moral leadership. There are differences between selfless service to Country versus the profit motive of business, but both stress that when you are put into a position of influence, it’s important to do something with it.” He also mentioned, “Harvard was the perfect finishing school to learn the language of business.”

Q: Did your West Point background help you plan and execute business strategy?

I especially liked Bob’s answer to this question – it concerned the efficiency of decision making: “At West Point, so much was expected of you and we quickly learned to manage our time. We had to make a decision with 80% or less of the information. In business you often need to move fast. Our rapid cadence depends on our ability to make a decision that is good enough and move on.” It’s clear there is no “analysis paralysis” here. That and a focus on prioritization have helped Bob keep his productivity and results at a high level.

Q: What military leadership lessons were echoed at Harvard Business School?

Bob said quickly “integrity and people” and that Harvard Business School was “the West Point of Capitalism.” He shared with me that 8% of his HBS class were military-experienced leaders. Also, Bob related that the military and HBS have had a working relationship since WWII.

This led me to ask if Bob thought that investing in hiring JMOs (Junior Military Officers) delivered a good return to which Bob replied, “Absolutely yes. I value diversity and I would not flood the organization with military-experienced leaders, although I am accused from time to time of recruiting Junior Bobs!” He said that there were none better prepared for making a decision without perfect information than JMOs, and that this candidate profile should definitely be included in any global recruiting strategy.

We then covered the importance of putting the right military-experienced candidate in the right position. Bob has experienced the impact of a business he inherited that had major challenges, partly because their military-experienced hires were put in the wrong positions. The way to combat this, Bob said, was to “make the communication two-way. The JMOs need to talk through their expectations as does the company.” We closed out this topic with Bob recounting the exceptional results his latest batch of JMO leaders are achieving in his business.

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy of West Point – The U.S. Military Academy

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Military Success Trait – Character

Successful business leadership is mutually inclusive with another military success trait – character. While some businesses can show short term gains with executive personnel possessing less-than-stellar moral fiber, long-term success can only be fostered from strong character.

Military Success Trait - CharacterFor this reason, middle-manager positions, the front-line of many businesses, offer an opportunity to insert developing leaders who possess strong character into companies, and the timing is optimal: Businesses can leverage their strong character while the young leaders learn the industry/process/technology. This is the central theme of a Junior Military Officer (JMO) Leadership Development Program (LDP) strategy which, with the strengthening economy, is experiencing a strong upward trend in corporate America.

Seeing the consistent successes of JMO LDPs across industry lines has served as proof of my initial thesis, that is, in business, “character counts”. I recently heard a strong supporting case on HBR IdeaCast – 462: “Ethical CEOs Finish First” where Fred Kiel, author of “Return on Character”, explains his research regarding why “being good” benefits the bottom line. It’s a great interview and there is also a great post on Harvard Business Reviews Blog, Measuring the Return on Character. I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of his book and I cannot wait to dig into it.

I like that the author has applied metrics to character. I’m constantly working on ways to better explain character-leadership in measurable terms. Even the great business leader/icon Jack Welch refers to soft skills with the terms “fuzzy” and “gray”. Quantifying leadership and character is a sound business strategy that top-performing organizations know in their hearts and possibly now, know in their heads too.

Is your business maximizing ROC (Return On Character) from its leaders? Is character part of your hiring process? How are you currently measuring character?

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy of Naval Surface Warriors

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Recruit Military-Experienced Talent with a Value Center Approach

One of the ways that exceptional organizations separate themselves from the pack is by adopting the concept of their recruiting function as a value center. Conversely, a not-so-forward-thinking company sees recruiting as a cost center activity. The evidence of this becomes apparent when they trumpet cost per hire as their leading metric: Recruit Military-Experienced Talent with a Value Center Approach“We’ve got our cost/hire down to $1200”. Congratulations, you’ve just won the race to the bottom.

The cost center mindset may save on the recruiting budget, but it bleeds over into operations with added expenses, the most notable of these being the cost of high turnover. There is a correlation between companies who have the lowest cost per hire and high turnover. When I see these cases, my thoughts go to what must be the opportunities lost, namely, the opportunity to hire someone amazing who raises the bar.

Companies with a value center focus understand the implications of the performance difference between an A Player and a C Player. These employers focus on the metric of ROH (Return On Hire). A good value center invests wisely in the resources that deliver the best talent. A Player-focused recruitment, like the tide, raises all ships: Operations benefits from a well-led team with little to no people distractions; culture improves because the A Players lead by example focusing on strategic goals; and bench strength increases which front loads succession planning.

When employers begin to recruit military-experienced talent with a value center approach, Bradley-Morris helps them focus on their ROMH (Return On Military Hire). Military personnel, particularly Junior Military Officers (JMOs), are force-ranked by their command and the #1 of 9 officer performs at a higher level that the #9 of 9 officer. Not every veteran is high performer; not every veteran is a fit for a key, demanding role. Bradley-Morris leverages best practices from two decades of lessons-learned to produce outstanding ROMH for our clients – it’s how we earn repeat business.

Is your companies recruiting function viewed as a cost or value center? What metrics is your team focused on? Are you taking a deep look into the people dynamics of your output?

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy of Dean Hochman

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Military Success Trait – Drive

Some are born with God-given talent and exceptional ability but most successful people must rely on another military success trait – Drive. Business leaders must develop an ability to push out of their comfort zone, to find a Military Success Trait - Driveway to deliver results for their customers and shareholders. Drive is how you get up again after being knocked down. Drive, most importantly, is what gets you to “the next level” in your career or life.

I recently read Bob Ravener’s book, “Up – The Difference Between Today and Tomorrow Is You“. Bob is one of the top civilian business leaders possessing a military background. In his book, the military success trait – drive – is a recurring theme. The military, along with his experiences in athletics, honed Bob’s drive, and he references that “drive” got him through his most formidable ordeals.

To excel in the military you must really want it. And top military candidates’ drive is honed by digging down deep and doing what is necessary to push through their trials. While differing military communities offer their own unique challenges, nearly all service members will attribute drive as an acquired skill that directly helped them achieve exceptional results in the service and after in their civilian careers. Passion inspires but drive gets the work done.

When “drive” is required in your business, military-experienced leaders will deliver.

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy of Expert Infantry

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OFCCP Veteran Benchmarking and Veteran Hiring Plans

So far in 2015, a frequently occurring discussion I am having with employers surrounds EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) Veteran and Disabled Veteran hiring benchmarks. The landmark change involves proactive veteran and disabled veteran hiring plans as well as several layers of self-identification for employees. I’ll be the first one to tell you I’m not an expert in all of the legal minutiae, so your in-house counsel/HR team should be consulted for details. However, I am deeply involved in veteran and disabled veteran hiring, so I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.

Veteran hiring plansThe OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs – Patricia A. Shiu, OFCCP Director is pictured at right) is the governing body that will be enforcing the benchmarks. A business that has over 50 employees, and contracts over $50,000.00 in government business (the “50/50” standard) is compelled to comply with OFCCP hiring benchmarks. Additionally, if your company does business with a federal contractor and qualifies per the 50/50 requirement, you are also subject to these rules.

The benchmarks are twofold and the first piece involves interviewing veteran and disabled veteran candidates. The big change is that companies are now required to record resources they have utilized to achieve the benchmarks of 7.2% veteran and 7% disabled employees. For Bradley-Morris existing clients, their proactive interviewing via BMI’s ConferenceHire®, TargetHire® and PowerHire® services already qualify as one of these resources.

The second piece involves employees, prospective and current, self-identifying as a veteran or disabled veteran. This is to be requested pre-employment and at regular intervals during an employee’s tenure with the company. For service-disabled veterans, especially those that are a percentage disabled that is not readily apparent, this is a 180 degree change from some of the past thinking to not self-identify. Bradley-Morris candidates are now briefed on this and thus encouraged to self-identify.

There are several resources on-line and I will share a couple of links below:

http://youtu.be/lwkFK9yVMAE

http://www.dol.gov/vets/hire/vets-100.htm

Also, Bradley-Morris, Inc. produces veteran hiring events at locations nationwide and can be a resource to help you meet the OFCCP benchmarks, no matter where the location is for which you are hiring.

http://prn.to/1E19gVx

I hope that this information assists your team in developing your AAP (Affirmative Action Plan) for veteran and disabled veteran hiring plans. Let me know if you have any questions, but more so, let me know what you can add to the conversation. In addition to being a “must do” for contractors and their suppliers, getting veterans interviewed will surely lead to more veteran hires as we at BMI have seen the interview as a key point in any successful veteran hiring program.

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy of US Department of Labor

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Military Success Trait – Feedback

Military-experienced personnel are accustomed to receiving feedback. The military has ingrained a continuous improvement mindset that takes advantage of reviewing and renewing. When they conduct an operation, evolution or a causality drill, they immediately review their performance.

Military Success Trait - FeedbackIt’s not to pass out blame but rather identify weaknesses in processes, equipment, execution, etc. The undisputed champion of innovation is trial and error. Being allowed to fail without being deemed a failure is part of a military leader’s DNA and another military success trait – feedback.

A comment I sometimes hear from recent military hires is that they are unsure how they are performing in their new civilian role. This is probably indicative of the civilian world, that is, there is not the same culture of feedback as there is in the military, certainly not to the same level of frequency and candor.

The interesting part is that this lack of feedback is not just one way. Frequently, the prior military personnel I’ve spoken with have identified an area of opportunity or weakness in their new civilian setting, but they haven’t experienced the occasion or invitation to communicate it. Their tendency is to hold on to the information as the “new guy”.

Other companies have a continuous improvement mindset as well as a culture of candid communication. They have likewise adopted performance-focused processes and procedures. They can work off of a roadmap but have a plan that is honed through trial and error. Military -experienced personnel deliver even more value, from day one, in this type of environment because it’s one they are used to.

Is your culture one of communication and improvement?

View all of the Military Success Traits series.

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy of U.S. Army Europe Images

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Military Success Trait – Culture

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, the author discusses how the customs and approach of a team, their culture, can be the competitive advantage in modern business. That is, marketing, strategy and execution are only as effective as the team that is doing the work. Dysfunctional teams lose their effectiveness in the noise of their bad culture.

Military Success Traits - CultureAs I assist military job seekers with finding civilian careers every day, I see a similar attribute as a military success trait – culture. Military leaders are taught to build winning teams. They do the best with who they have and motivate from the middle. They help B-players become A-players and keep A-players challenged. They accomplish this through value-focused leadership that builds performance through culture.

Culture is a force multiplier. Building a team that cares about each other and the accomplishment of their objectives – whether in business or in the military – will result in a group that outperforms perhaps more advantaged teams who don’t have the same culture strengths and get stuck in bureaucracy or turmoil.

Ever ask a veteran why they did what they did? Most did “it” for their teammates. That’s culture.

View all of the Military Success Traits series.

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy of Juhan Sonin

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Why is military to civilian skills matching so important?

Turnover is expensive. The estimated costs vary but it is a business disrupter that most companies want to reduce. The most damaging turnover occurs in the employee’s first year when a company is heavily investing in the employee’s training and onboarding but the employee’s business impact is not fully realized.

military to civilian skills matchingSo when I learned about a negative report regarding veteran retention, it got my attention knowing that first year performance is so important to employers who are hirers of military.

According to the VetAdvisor/Syracuse University report, 65% of veterans are likely to leave their first civilian job in under two years. One reason mentioned is poor military to civilian skills matching.

Matching is a critical step, and not just for skill set – also for goals, growth, career path, purpose and culture – they are all part of the equation.

This is critical area of value for Bradley-Morris, Inc. clients as we utilize patented military to civilian skills matching software, combine it with more than two decades of real world position matching successes and back it up with a guarantee.

Whether you leverage your internal resources or a recruiter such as Bradley-Morris, successful military to civilian skills matching will produce a win-win offer for the candidate and a long-term high-performer for the employer.

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy of James Petts

P.S. In contrast, what is your experience with civilian retention? This survey says that only 26% of green grads (arguably in a similar situation as military/veterans, i.e., in their initial civilian job) stay in their first job for a year. Perhaps the report about veteran retention warrants a positive spin instead? Let me know what you think.

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Military Success Traits – Communication

One of the first skills I was taught in the Navy was to repeat back all orders. It’s another of the military success traits – communication. Repeat back the order to insure the proper instruction or guidance was received. It works.

Military Success Traits - CommunicationThis is a military success trait that has served me well throughout my professional career. When I am talking with a client, I repeat back the information discussed and make sure that I clearly understand exactly what was said. It has proven to be invaluable.

With modern communication, email and voice mail, returning communication accurately and promptly is a stand-out quality – if for no other reason than to communicate that I received your message and I am addressing it.

Alas, this is not a common trait in the workforce today. Many people do not return emails or calls unless it is important to them. Or they assume that the message was received and go on. Or they are so distracted by peers, web sites, phone calls, apps, etc., that they totally miss it. This can be a costly mistake. One of the best parts of working with military-experienced talent is that they understand the importance of good communication.

How important is communication in your organization?

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

Image courtesy Official U.S. Navy Page

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Military Success Traits – Discipline

In this post, I’d like to discuss one of the most well-known military success traits – discipline. A disciplined-mind is goal-focused, organized and Military Success Traits – Disciplineable to “nug through” difficult tasks. A disciplined body is healthy, fit and ready to get to work. Developing a disciplined mind and body isn’t exclusive to the military, but the military will throw you into the deep end of the discipline pool.

Further, the military success trait of discipline is a core leadership quality. Being the example of decorum, character and personal appearance are the qualities that lead to promotions in the military as well as at most companies. As business leaders look to their companies’ future and seek to build bench strength with the next generation of leaders, discipline may not be an obvious category to prioritize, but rest assured is is at the root of several other desired virtues.

Jack Welch’s GE, the best known “leadership company”, elevated leaders based on their 4 E’s and a P – Energy, Energizing Others, Edge, Execution and Passion – all discipline-based qualities. Does your business value discipline?

Bobby Whitehouse

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbywhitehouse

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