11/07/2014 12:04 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

Operation HR Engagement: What the Military can teach Business About Treating People


Obviously the military has different objectives than most businesses but both types of organizations are nothing without their people. So in honor of Veteran's Day this month, here are a few things I think the Military can teach Corporate America about treating people.

On-boarding: With rare exception, companies do a poor job of on-boarding new employees. At best there is brief introduction to the company (usually through a video) and then someone from HR walks you through the obligatory paperwork. Next you are handed off to your department/team and at that point there is no consistency of experience. However, when someone joins the military they go through several weeks of time-tested experiences with other new recruits. Contrary to popular belief, the objective of basic training is to build recruits self-confidence and skills. Additionally everyone is assigned a 'battle buddy' who they stick with throughout the process. New company employees are lucky if someone shows them where the cafeteria is on their first day.

Leadership focus: One of the leadership principles of the Armed Forces is 'Know your people and look out for their welfare.' The 'leave no man behind' mentality makes it clear that everyone has each other's back at all levels. Unfortunately for many employees in companies it feels like profits are the only thing that are being 'looked out for'. Leaders can get so caught up in their financial bottom-line goals that they forget that the people (who help them achieve their goals) are their most important resource. Their intentions may be different but business leaders' actual behavior often demonstrates that their priorities are profits first then clients/markets second then lastly their people which, of course, is completely backwards.

Safety: 'Whoever is under a man's power is under his protection, too.' D.J. Schwartz. Ok, so typically we are not in harms way in Corporate America but the going does get tough especially when the economy tanks. The military awards medals to those who sacrifice to protect others while businesses award bonuses to people who sacrifice others so that they may gain. Simon Sinek examines this reality so well in his TED Talk 'Why good leaders make you feel safe' that I humbly defer to him.

Whether you are in a position of power in the Military or in Corporate America, get clear about long-term goals and then focus on your people. They are your greatest asset, weapon, and investment in the long-run. The most impressive product, armory, or services are worthless unless you have the right people engaged to sell, deploy or implement them.

I think that former Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Michael Mullen said it best "My bet on the future of the military is on its people," he said. "If we get it right with the people and meet their needs, they will more than meet ours, no matter what the mission or where it is."