Home Blog Qualitative Research How life in the military can prepare you for success in the private sector

How life in the military can prepare you for success in the private sector

Last week saw Veterans Day celebrated in the U.S. – a day to honor all veterans who’ve served the country in war or in peace, and to thank them for their sacrifices. Other countries celebrate the occasion in their own way, with Canada, Australia, and Great Britain marking ‘Remembrance Day.’

As well as a chance to thank our service men and women, Veterans Day is also an ideal opportunity to look at the pivotal role that veterans continue to play in our society, and to consider how the skills developed through military life can translate to the world beyond.

To mark the occasion, we sat down with Forsta’s COO and U.S. Air Force veteran Giles Whiting for the lowdown on how military service can prepare someone to succeed in the private sector – and what they need to bring to the table to make those unique skills truly transferable.

Here’s what he had to say.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Giles. You served in the U.S. Air Force for seven years separating as a Captain in 2006. Since that time, you’ve enjoyed an illustrious career in the private sector – serving as our own COO at Forsta for the past 2.5 years. What role did the military play in helping you to develop the skills necessary for your career today?

A: Service in the military isn’t necessarily about preparing you for the private sector – that’s not its primary role – but it does equip you with an incredible set of skills that can really serve you in a career beyond military service. Even at a junior tenure, you’re given significant leadership roles that you’re just expected to step into. You take on a great deal of responsibility and have very clear accountability for fulfilling the job you’ve been given. That’s an invaluable lesson for the corporate world, and if you can translate these skills, the military can really set you up for a successful career.

Q: You talk about accountability and personal responsibility, but what role does teamwork play in military (and business) life?

A: When you’re in the military, you always have a team around you; you’re always doing a job with a team, and that means you have people to lead, rely on, and work with to get a job done. This requires clear communication, which is aided by a super clear chain of command. I believe that translates well into the business world, as your team – whether that’s your direct colleagues, or people in the wider business – acts as your comrades in arms. You all must pull together to get the job done, and you can’t really have a successful company without people working together in that way.

Q: Serving in the military together must really strengthen your bond with people. Do you think it’s possible to create connections like that in a workplace outside of the military?

A: Being in the military is one big Human Experience (HX); in fact, it’s a use case of real HX – especially when you’re deployed with people. You’re working together, living together, and sharing experiences together. You get to see all the parts of a person, and there’s no going home at the end of the day. Nothing is ever going to be quite the same as the bond you create in that environment. There are similar situations on the corporate battlefield. I’ve been in some incredibly intense situations with teams where we’re working toward a tight deadline, navigating a deal together, driving towards year-end targets, etc. and in the most special of these situations it feels very similar. You come out of these situations almost like family and certainly a life-long friends.

Q: That’s an interesting comparison of experiences. In both cases, how important is it for leaders to instil a sense of purpose in their people?

A: I think this is the number one thing that business leaders fall down on. If leaders don’t paint a really clear vision and explain the mission, or clearly define the roles they cannot expect to have a high performing organization. One thing the military is extremely good at is making sure roles are clear: you have rank, title, expectations, and accountability and this clarity is a massive tailwind in the organization’s ability to execute. Now this doesn’t mean that every structure must be so hierarchical; you just need to be clear on the mission, everyone needs to understand that mission, you need to understand the resources you have on the team, align those resources, and execute. Every step of the way, everyone must remain on the same page.

Q: There’s a lot of talk about ‘quiet quitting’ in the workplace today. Do you have a perspective on this? Are there learnings from your military service that apply to today’s workplace culture?

A: In the Air Force I came from, quiet quitting just wouldn’t happen – you’re not there for a paycheck, you’re there for a mission. So, there is a lesson here – leaders need to inspire their people to not want to quit. It’s about engaging people around a common goal and instilling them with a sense of passion about what they can accomplish – them, personally. It’s easier to stay motivated when you have a clear focus, clear responsibility, and clear accountability. Each member of your team needs to understand their own piece of the puzzle, and how it fits into the bigger picture.

Q: Is it harder to stay motivated outside of the military, where you have the choice to say no and walk away?

A: Every job and every role have its ups and downs and not every day will be rosy – but you can still like your job! You always need to put your heart into what you do and the team you’re with, and if your heart isn’t in it, you’re in the wrong job – or with the wrong company. This once again ties into sharing a common purpose: in the military, you’re there for a bigger mission; something beyond yourself. In the corporate world, you must believe in what you’re doing, and be there for more than just a paycheck. Leaders can help to define what that ‘something more’ is by creating – and most importantly, communicating – a clear mission. When people lock hands to overcome challenges, they create a bond; it’s for leaders to clearly define these shared challenges and help their teams to understand their role in overcoming them.

Thank you so much for your time today, Giles. Now for a word from Forsta…

Diversity, equity, and inclusion: the Forsta culture

At Press Ganey and Forsta, we prize diversity and welcome veterans with open arms. This is a workplace where you can really be yourself. We leave politics and egos at the door, and truly believe that representation in our teams should match the world outside.

Interested in joining our team? Check out our latest job openings!

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