Friday, January 06, 2012

Helmets to hard hats vs. battlefields to the boardroom

I am just getting home from downtown where I had a quick meeting in an office building on University Avenue. In the elevator, there was one one of those mini-tv screens that gives you the latest headlines. This appeared on the screen: "Helmets to hard hats: Harper outlines job program for military veterans." So, me being me, I naturally had a spontaneous reaction in the elevator to the effect of who is he to say what kind of jobs the military should enter on transitioning, who says they want to be construction workers, etc. Needless to say, I was incredulous to put it mildly. A woman listening was smiling in reaction, so I was in good company. To her, at the end of the ride I said, "Not a fan," to which she replied, "Agreed."

Anyway, having a transition plan for military members reentering civilian life, if that's what they choose to do, is not a bad thing. But why is the government steering them into construction? No offence intended to construction workers, at all. Infrastructure is needed as an investment in this country, no question. But our military members are not, I'm sure if you ask them, necessarily interested in construction. Indeed, they are well trained and have leadership skills that might be better applied elsewhere.

Why not pay for their education or at least help in paying for it? Apprenticeships in building trades might appeal to some but why not broaden the scope of the educational offerings so that they can have more of a choice? We have a productivity problem in this country, so we are told, why not think about such situations in a more creative way?

If you scan the American scene, you will see how their transitioning of military to civilian life is framed. It's in the blog post title, from the battlefields to the boardroom. Here's an excerpt from an HBR item that gives you a sense of the possible contributions that ex-military can make based on their skills acquired in conflict:
So, what can the rest of us learn from our sober band of top military men and women? In this month’s Spotlight package we revisit a question that has fascinated generations of thinkers: What are the wartime leadership lessons that can be broadly applied to the world of management?

Once upon a time the takeaways might have focused on discipline, sacrifice, and team building. But our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have inspired fresh thinking. The lessons from them concern skills like adaptive leadership and navigating uncertain, high-risk situations. Here the military provides a model for business in several ways. Leaders in both spheres must deal with a world of 24/7 information and public scrutiny, cope with perpetual ambiguity, and adjust to ever-changing goals.

One might think that a standoff in Kandahar would have little relevance for a CEO in Omaha or Oman. But in our lead Spotlight piece, “Extreme Negotiations,” Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian, and Jonathan Hughes show that the talents needed to pacify a war-zone neighborhood are ones all managers would do well to deploy. Even in a life-or-death situation, the authors argue, the only way to negotiate successfully is to use a reasoned, patient, empathetic style. The same is true in any high-stakes business situation.

Can former members of the military translate what they’ve learned to a business environment? Perfectly well, say Boris Groysberg, Andrew Hill, and Toby Johnson, the authors of “Which of These People Is Your Future CEO?” They find intriguing differences in style and effectiveness, though, depending on which branch of the armed forces those leaders served in.
Now granted, we're not talking about placing military members in boardrooms across the nation, that's not the point. The point is that there are skills our military have learned in theatre that could be amplified and applied usefully in our economy in many industries, beyond just the one, construction. So on first glance at this program, it seems to be giving short-shrift to our military, a missed opportunity.

Is this all there is is in terms of a Canadian government's vision in response to this transition? A catchy slogan with accompanying photo-op (see link above) does not a vision or optimal policy make.