Deloitte's Jon Wear. Left, as a Captain in the Parachute Regiment. Right, as a Deloitte senior manager.

Friday 22nd January 2016

Joining forces

Should you have more ex-military in your ranks?

It’s a bleak winter afternoon: the wind’s keen and umbrellas are being turned inside out across EC4A. Safely tucked inside, about a hundred military people are milling around a London office of Deloitte. Some of the military people are still in service; others have only recently left. ‘You can tell the ones that are veterans,’ whispers an outlooker. ‘They’re the ones growing the beards.’

The veterans are gathered for one of Deloitte’s Military Insight Days, part of the Deloitte Military Transition and Talent Programme (DMTTP). The programme provides information on the skills needed to succeed in business, offering networking opportunities and helping individuals navigate the application process for roles across the commercial sector.

It’s also a useful direct recruitment tool. Last year Deloitte in the UK recruited 50 ex-military folk, adding to 150 existing veterans. Deloitte is a signatory to the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant and its dedication to the cause has earned it a Gold Award from the MoD.

The Insight Day has different aspects. There’s networking at both ends, and a series of – insightful, and even humorous – presentations in between. In the presentations you can hear the occasional evidence of a gap between services and life beyond: ‘The reflex to avoid is saying, ‘Hello, sir!’, ‘Civvies aren’t the enemy.’ And perhaps most usefully: ‘Deloitte doesn’t want you to be a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. It wants you to be a management consultant.’

Chris Recchia is a partner in Deloitte’s Audit department and the head of the DMTTP. He believes that any gap is easily traversable.

Integrity and leadership

‘Actually, there are a lot of similarities between the services and the commercial world,’ he says. ‘And as an organisation, we’re often putting people into government departments, so why shouldn’t it work the other way around?’ (For the record, the MoD is Deloitte’s fourth biggest public sector client.)

Chris Recchia. Photo: Deloitte

Organisations grappling with culture and behaviours would do a lot worse, he says, than to look toward forces alumni. ‘They bring integrity and leadership and serve organisations very well,’ he says. ‘Equip them with the technical skills they need and you’ll have a very good resource indeed.’

Of course, it’s not just Deloitte that sees the value in ex-services recruitment. There’s a small industry around it: note a plethora of job boards like Ex-Military Careers, CivvyStreet, Forces Recruitment and Demob Job (which surely wins the medal for the snappiest title).

Plus there’s also a lot of positive noise in the mainstream business press. This article in Business Insider is an effective digest of reasons why you should hire veterans, all culled from the online forum Quora.

Reasons from the article include: ‘Intuition is a skill, and the military teaches it’, ‘Military personnel know the meaning of hard work’ and ‘Military people will openly tell you when something is wrong’. Although that last one might actually prove to be a mixed blessing, when you come to think about it.

Value creation

The right veterans can also enhance client relationships, suggests Recchia. ‘When you put them in front of clients, then there’s real life experience in the room. That’s a great asset to have, and it means there’s value creation for the individual, for the firm and for our clients, too.’

Deloitte’s reaching out could help the organisation even if the veterans don’t actually join Deloitte. They could end up as clients. ‘If we can help them today, they might be sat across the table from us in ten years’ time,’ Recchia notes.

So how can organisations better capitalise on this talent pool? Part of it, says Recchia, is to do with educating recruiters and hiring managers so they don’t miss opportunities.

Despite the efforts of Deloitte and others to coach veterans in translating their experiences into identifiable skills, recruiters need to be able to ‘read between lines in CV and see the value’. In other words, recruiters shouldn’t see ‘active service’: they should see ‘project delivery’.

It also helps if organisations talk to one another, sharing finesses on what can be done and how. Recchia draws comparisons with the aggregation of marginal gain, the theory employed by Sir Dave Brailsford from British Cycling.

Civvy treat

Jon Wear, pictured above, is a senior manager at Deloitte, an ex-Captain in the Parachute Regiment, and another instrumental member of the DMTTP. The good thing about it for attendees, he says, is ‘reducing the learning curve’. He also says that the programme is good for CSR, general staff engagement and recruitment.

An Insight Day. Photo: Deloitte

Within Deloitte, Wear says, ex-military personnel have a number of resources to help them come to terms with their new lives. There’s an internal military network full of ‘sympathetic characters’, plus every transferee gets an ex-military mentor and a ‘civvies buddy’.

What’s the biggest challenge? Wear suggests culture: specifically, some veterans are unwilling to speak up against the status quo. (‘We are hierarchical at Deloitte, but we all have a voice.’) Also, some veterans need coaching to be ‘softer with direction’.

And he warns about the potential psychological disquiet that can come from waving the services goodbye. ‘In the military the support structure is all-encompassing. Here, you have to look after yourself.’

Back in the main reception area, the crowd is dissipating. The piles of sandwiches have largely been destroyed: the only remnants are a handful of untouched vegetarian sandwiches, lounging amid a smattering of cress.

About the author

Andrew Baird

Andrew is the CEO of HRville. He is also Employer Brand Director of Blackbridge Communications, Editorial Director of Professionals in Law and an associate of The Smarty Train. Previously, he was the MD of TCS Advertising.