Transitioning Soldiers: The Importance of Setting the Right Expectations

“I have commanded a unit of 800+, so I am fit for any role in the corporate and will be absorbed easily.”

“I am more qualified than my military course mate / unit-type / friend, who is getting a CTC of  X outside, so I will get >X for sure!”

“In the military, I used to earn a CTC of X, so I should get a minimum CTC of X in the corporate world too.”

“If I could run a unit/ship/airbase/training institution/unit-canteen (or something similar), I will surely be able to run a business successfully.”

“The armed forces taught management to the civilian world. So what is there for me to learn? The corporate world is stupid not to hire veterans.”

“Now, since I have landed a great job, my life is set and I can take it easy.”

A recent soldier-turned-veteran friend shared the above questions, as being representative of the wrong expectations which many transitioning soldiers have from the civilian world. As he rightly said, each one of the above expectations is absolutely misplaced. Holding such expectations is a sure-shot road to bewilderment, frustration and failure for any transitioning soldier.

So what is wrong with the above expectations? What should be the correct expectations of a transitioning soldier or spouse, which will lead him/her to clarity, confidence and success?

In broad terms, I will label the expectations listed at start of this article as expectations which have no bearing upon your outcomes.

Such expectations are like saying,

“It rains a lot where I come from, so I expect it to rain here too!”

We all know that whether it rains here or not depends upon the cloud cover here, the wind speed and temperature, etc. If those parameters are suitable, it will rain here, irrespective of where you come from.

Likewise, expectations of veterans that are not based upon causal facts, will have no bearing upon their outcomes. Below, I have listed 5 common expectation areas of transitioning soldiers, and tried to explain why those are bound to fail. I have also tried to list alternate expectations which are logical and which will lead to the desired result – an amazing second life.

  1. Military success guarantees corporate success.

“I have commanded a unit of 800+, so I am fit for any role in the corporate and will be absorbed easily.”

“I have done exceedingly well in Army (or Navy or Air Force) Courses. I excelled in my Psc (Passed Staff Course)/Mtech/HC (Higher Command Course)/ JN (Junior NCOs) Course (or something similar). So I will get a job easily.”

The military world is very different from the corporate one. The first one exists to prevent or win wars while second one exists to fulfil the demands of the market and to make profits. Success in the military world is not a guarantee for success in the corporate world.

There are certainly common knowledge areas, skills, experiences and attitudes, which are transferable from the military to the corporate domain. So soldiers with such capabilities will certainly have higher chances of success in both worlds. But success in the corporate world also requires you to fill your knowledge, skills, experience and attitude gaps with respect to the corporate world.

A smart soldier will correct his or her expectations as follows:

“I have excelled in such and such knowledge areas, skills, experiences and attitudes in the military. Therefore I will excel in this corporate world too if I fill such and such gaps too.”

  1. The expected corporate remuneration is directly proportional to the military remuneration.

“In the military, I used to earn a CTC of X, so I should get minimum CTC of X in the corporate world too.”

“I am more qualified than my military course mate / unit-type / friend, who is getting a CTC of  X outside, so I will get >X for sure!”

Similar to military experience, military remuneration has no bearing upon your salary or earning in the civilian world. Can you imagine a company paying you well because you were a great military leader? Wouldn’t that be illogical. Wouldn’t it be more logical for a company to pay you according to what you offer to it in the corporate context?

The correct expectation, in this case, would be to expect a salary somewhere in the range of what most employees earn in a similar role in the corporate world. Another way is to cost what you are worth to the company and then work out your expected salary. For example, a sales professional who is confident of generating Y amount in sales could expect a salary in the range of Y x Z%.

Similarly, your relative merit in the military has no bearing upon your relative salaries in the corporate world.

  1. Running a business is similar to running a military unit.

“If I could run a unit/ship/airbase/training institution/unit-canteen (or something similar), I will surely be able to run a business successfully.”

Running a business is very different from commanding or managing a military unit or formation. Yes, many things could be common, like their administration, security, health and safety, sometimes even certain operations, and so on.

But the key differences are in areas like marketing, sales and finances which military commanders rarely handle in the corporate sense. A military commander does not think in terms of revenues and profits. He or she does not maintain a balance sheet or a profit and loss account, with a top line and a bottom line. He or she thinks in terms of military aims like capturing targets of military value, minimising casualties, providing aid or support, etc. He or she studies the terrain, the enemy, the enemy commander, and so on. The business owner studies market conditions, competitors, the management of competing companies, and so on. So to run a business, the military commander would have to learn about a lot of things which matter in the profit driven corporate world.

Certainly, there is evidence to show that military leadership contributes positively to corporate leadership too. Efraim Benmelech and Carola Frydman, of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, in their 2013 paper titled, Military CEOs, conclude that, “our results show that military service has significant explanatory power for managerial decisions and firm outcomes.” – We, N., Bergman, N., Doyle, J., Goldin, C., Katz, L., Kryzanowski, L., Milbourn, T., Schwert, B., Benmelech, E., & Frydman, C. (2013). Military CEOs.

‌However, this does not mean to say that military leaders do not need to pick up other capabilities to be able to run a business successfully. Their soldierly qualities plus the other newly learned capabilities lead to success in business. The correct expectation in this case, therefore, would be:

“I have the capabilities needed to run a military organisation. If I pick up those additional capabilities, that are needed to run a business, I should do well.”

  1. The challenge ends when you get your first job.

This expectation too is hugely misplaced.

Firstly, did you know, that in the corporate world, the average employee changes jobs maybe 6 times or more over his entire career? Many of these changes are not voluntary. They are driven by factors beyond an employee’s control, like a slowdown in a particular industry, a company going bankrupt or undergoing a management change due to a merger or acquisition, temporary layoffs, changes in the business model, etc. Then there are employee-driven job changes due to factors like dissatisfaction with the existing salary or growth or work environment, personal requirements like the spouse’s place of work, children’s schooling requirements, availability of suitable housing, and so on. 

So getting a job is not the main thing – keeping it is. This applies even if the above mentioned factors are not at play. You still need to continuously come up to the expectations of your employers. This means that you must continue to grow even while in the job. In the corporate world, companies rarely hire for life. Instead, they hire, retain and grow according to performance. So you must ensure your performance in every job that you take up.

The correct expectations therefore is:

“Congratulations to me, as I have got a job! Now I must focus on fulfilling the job requirements, and grow in this company by growing my capabilities and results.”

  1. The corporate should line up to absorb veterans.

“We have served the country. Companies must acknowledge this by hiring us.”

“We have so many qualities. Companies must come forward to hire us.”

Even at the cost of offending some of my fellow soldiers, I will say this:

“The government has laid down a number of provisions to take care of us veterans. Certainly, some of those provisions might be deficient and might need to be modified. However, beyond those, the corporate world and the country’s citizens do not owe us anything. Our past is our past. Our present matters. The corporate world and citizens might sympathise and empathise, but it is for us to give them reasons, in the present, to hire us and to help us, based upon our current capabilities and talents. If we do so, they will certainly respect our past too.”

That is not just my opinion. Look around and you will find that this is the truth. Forget about all the flag-waving that goes on for soldiers. That is all fine. But all of us are only as good as we are today. The past is paid and done for.

So I would urge my fellow soldiers, including myself, to remain current and valuable. That is how nature and society work. If we do that, we will find that out countrymen and women are more than happy to step forward and help.

To sum up.

I run training programs for soldiers and spouses, so I tend to get emails, calls and text messages from thousands of them. I also tend to follow their careers and lives to find out how they fare, so as to learn more about what other veterans and spouses could to succeed in the civilian world. I have repeatedly observed that those who set the right expectations and prepare are the ones who succeed and do well in their second lives. So that is what I would humbly advise my fellow transitioning soldiers and spouses to also do.

P.S. In my book, Soldier 2.0: 19 Steps to a Soldier’s Dream Second Life, I have attempted to provide a 19 step framework for soldiers and spouses to build the amazing second lives of their dreams. I believe that the power to achieve success in your second life lies in your own hands. The two keys are knowledge and preparation. If you too are transitioning to the civilian world, then I encourage you to check it out. You can get your copy at Amazon. You could also get a signed and personalized copy.

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