The US workforce includes roughly 9.8 million veterans, roughly 32 percent of whom served in the armed forces after 2001. These veterans and their spouses have become a focal point for progressive employers seeking to hire from a diverse and often highly qualified pool of talent that is often underutilized. Thanks in part to these efforts, as well as the work of many organizations dedicated to connecting vets with job opportunities, the number of unemployed veterans in the US has declined substantially over the past four years.
Organizations that make veteran hiring a priority do so not only out of respect for their service and sacrifice, but also because they recognize the value veterans can bring to their organization as employees. Our analysis at CEB, now Gartner, finds that veterans are slightly more productive than non-veterans and have lower turnover, by 2-3 percentage points. In fact, the average veteran employee contributes an additional $7,500 to an organization’s overall performance.
Yet despite the extra value veterans have to offer, many employers still shy away from hiring them due to misconceptions about their characteristics, abilities, and needs. At CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Washington, DC, on Thursday, Chris Ford, founder & CEO of the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO), led a panel discussion on strategies for recruiting and retaining veterans with Mark Erwin, Special Assistant to the Secretary at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Ret. Major General Paulette Risher, Chief Programs Officer at Still Serving Veterans, and Dan Goldenberg, executive director of the Call of Duty Endowment. The panelists shared a number of important and in some cases surprising facts about veterans in the American workforce:
1) Veterans Can Be Hard to Find and Don’t Always Self-Identify
The first thing an organization needs to do if it wants to hire veterans is find them. Veterans can come into the hiring process through three different pipelines: While some may come straight out of the military, Erwin explained that fully half of the 250,000 veterans who transition to civilian life each year use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to attend college, and so will be found through campus recruiting. Countless others, meanwhile, are already in the workforce, but they are not always easy to spot.
Whether in baseball or business, the value of a data-based approach to decision-making is at this point unquestioned. In baseball, however, one attribute data skeptics usually bring up as immeasurable or impervious to analytics is “chemistry”—the intangible factor that glues great teams together for sustained success. Even that may now be quantifiable, however, as recent studies profiled by Jared Diamond for the Wall Street Journal last week reveal that there is a budding movement to understand the science of interpersonal chemistry.
“In a sweeping shift, many of the industry’s wonkiest stat-heads now acknowledge that how players get along with each other likely can affect how they perform on the field over a six-month season,” Diamond wrote.
The San Francisco Giants, winners of three of the past seven World Series, are putting cameras in the dugout of their minor-league affiliate in San Jose to try to find a link between physical behavior and production. The organization and researchers will not comment on the study until it is complete, but the Giants will not have exclusive access to the results.
At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, two Federal Reserve economists and a professor at Indiana University presented their findings of a study attempting to measure team chemistry in baseball. They focused on teams that were outperforming the sum of their individual parts, hypothesizing that good chemistry accounted for the difference. In their study, they were able to identify players with unspectacular individual performance statistics who nonetheless were consistently part of successful teams.
We’ve talked before about what makes a great team, and while there is no magic spell to create the perfect team dynamic, consistently strong teams tend to have high levels of mutual trust and respect, fostering an environment of psychological safety that enables team members to take risks in front of their colleagues. In other words, we might say that teams perform at their best when every member feels like a part of the team.
As it turns out, that sense of belonging is good for employees, too. Not only can it make them happier and more productive, Drake Baer at Science of Us flags a recent study showing that employees who have a strong connection with their team tend to have better overall well-being, including better mental and physical health:
Drawing on 58 studies of almost 20,000 employees across 15 countries, a research team lead by Niklas Steffens at University of Queensland found that the more you connect with the group you work with — regardless of the industry you’re in — the better off you’ll be. It’s a matter of “social identification,” Steffens explained to Science of Us over an email, or the “sense of oneness” you feel with whatever social groups you might be a part of. …
At CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Miami earlier this month, diversity and inclusion professionals stressed the importance of HR becoming “comfortable with being uncomfortable” as they become familiar with the concept of unconscious bias. Learning about one’s own internalized biases, which most of us would prefer to believe don’t exist, can be disquieting, but the work of overcoming those biases begins with acknowledging them and being willing to feel the discomfort that comes with taking that step.
But what if getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is about more than just implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy? What if it’s one of the organizational strengths that comes with diversity. At the Harvard Business Review, David Rock, Heidi Grant Halvorson, and Jacqui Grey make the case that diverse teams are more effective precisely because they’re less comfortable. They reference a 2009 study of fraternity and sorority members:
In the experiment, teams were asked to solve a murder mystery. First, students were individually given 20 minutes to study the clues and pinpoint the likely suspect. Next, they were placed into teams of three with fellow members from the same Greek house and given 20 minutes to discuss the case together and provide a joint answer. Five minutes into the discussion, however, they were joined by a fourth team member, someone from either their own house or another one. After collectively naming their suspect, members individually rated aspects of the discussion. More diverse groups — those joined by someone from outside their own fraternity or sorority — judged the team interactions to be less effective than did groups joined by insiders. They were also less confident in their final decisions.
One of the biggest downsides of the open office is that it lends itself to distraction: The lack of private, quiet places to work independently can be so detrimental to productivity as to outweigh whatever boost the open plan provides to employees’ creative and collaborative energies. For introverts, this borderless workspace is doubly detrimental, and it is with this in mind that the Economist makes the case for more peace and quiet in the office:
The biggest culprit is the fashion for open-plan offices and so-called “group work”. Companies rightly think that the elixir of growth in a world where computers can do much of the grunt work is innovation. But they wrongly conclude that the best way to encourage creativity is to knock down office walls and to hold incessant meetings. This is ill-judged for a number of reasons. It rests on a trite analogy between intellectual and physical barriers between people. It ignores the fact that noise and interruptions make it harder to concentrate. And companies too often forget that whereas extroverts gain energy from other people, introverts need time on their own to recharge. …
Playworks is a twenty-year-old nonprofit organization that works in elementary schools throughout the US to improve the learning environment for underserved children with a recess program that uses play to instill positivity, empathy, respect, and inclusion. Speaking at CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Miami on Wednesday, Playworks president Elizabeth Cushing explained to HR leaders how her organization learned to apply its understanding of the value of play to its own management practices, yielding remarkable results in employee engagement and retention.
In the Playworks program, staff go to schools to teach and lead structured playground games like tag and four square. They model behavior of how to play games in a safe and healthy way, include every child in the game, and actively recognize them for their participation. Through repetition of these activities, kids feel included and safe, and return to the classroom after recess more focused and ready to learn. A 2013 Stanford study showed that over nine months, Playworks schools reduced bullying by 43 percent, while students felt 20 percent safer and were 43 percent more physically active, Cushing said.
“We create a culture on the playground that ripples into the whole school,” she said. “Pretty soon, the flywheel of positivity is unstoppable.”
In addition to making the school day more physically active and fun, Cushing added, Playworks helps kids learn important life skills and values, such as respect for their peers, empathy, leadership, self-awareness, and teamwork. Leaders in the organization have always endeavored to bring those same values to their own workplace, but it wasn’t until Playworks faced a difficult change event that they realized that their play-based model of teaching positivity, empathy, and inclusion was just as well suited to the workplace as it was to the schoolyard.
Type “what makes a perfect team?” into Google and you’ll get about 400 million results. Ask Google’s researchers the same question, however, and they’ll tell you the answer is not at all obvious. For the New York Times Magazine’s recent Future of Work issue, Charles Duhigg followed a Google research team’s five-year journey trying to uncover the makeup of high-performing teams. Spoiler alert: The researchers did not find the magic formula they were looking for. “At Google, we’re good at finding patterns, [but] there weren’t strong patterns here,” the company’s head of people analytics admitted.
However, they did make two discoveries that reinforce the ability of organizations and managers to shape and improve the teams they already have. Rather than providing managers a blueprint for the individual components of the perfect team, the evidence they gathered pointed toward two key behaviors of good teams:
- Team members speak in roughly the same proportion.
- Team members are effective at using non-verbal cues to identify how other team members feel.
Surprisingly, technical skills did not make the short list. As Duhigg explains, the behaviors above are important because they promote the high levels of “psychological safety” or an environment of trust and respect that is necessary for team members to take risks in front of their colleagues. On their own, these findings may seem intuitive or even obvious, but what makes this work so compelling, especially for managers who are skeptical of soft skills, is that it provides a data-based argument for the value of those less-tangible skills.
Our own work at CEB also supports Google’s findings.