Military-Grade Operations

How military hires boost productivity—and three tips to build your team

BY: Marc Acton, Associate Creative Director

Marc Acton is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who has flown over 400 combat hours and once went a week without eating while hiking 15 miles each day. The most intense strategy planning session is small potatoes to him. Read more about his military experience here.

Every great business has some kind of soul. In fact, if you’re in the communication business, finding and propagating yours is key to long-term success. About 10 years ago, iostudio discovered a big part of our soul. In our early days, our company growth was built on several government contracts, which required us to hire a large number of veterans and service members. That provided an unexpected bonus: a built-in military culture. Here’s how that culture shaped—and still shapes—our business, from boardroom to back room.

Veterans have communication shortcuts.

You start learning the lexicon on day one when you join the military. As iostudio adopted more and more of this shared vocabulary, it didn’t just up our acronym game. It also helped us integrate processes like the AAR (after action review), pinpoint protocol like SOPs (standard operating procedures), incorporate communication policies like the BLUF (bottom line up front) and a civilian version of NCOERs (noncommissioned officer evaluation report) for our employees.

How our clients benefit: Efficient communication fuels effective projects.

Internal drive is expected.

You won’t make it very far past that first day in uniform if you don’t have some kind of internal drive. Not successfully, at least. Whether it’s cleaning up after a company party, maintaining a well-organized workspace or putting in late hours to get client projects out the door, our vet-heavy workforce has always been a pitch-in-and-get-it-done kind of crowd. That is, perhaps, a residual benefit from all the brass our team has shined, uniforms we’ve pressed, weapons we’ve checked and rechecked, and barracks we’ve kept squeaky clean during years of military service. That experience translates to task-specific discipline and execution in ways other organizations probably won’t (or can’t) know.

How our clients benefit: Engaged project members do exceptional work. 

Pretense doesn’t pay.

As content marketers, our world is fraught with marketing mumbo jumbo, which makes authenticity more valuable than ever. Service members come with a keen understanding of the value of authenticity, embracing values like integrity and honesty. When we hire veterans and service members, we’re likely getting workers with integrity. They know what it’s like to follow chains of command; they serve and protect valuable assets, clients and colleagues; and they execute assignments from a strategic perspective with the final goal in mind. From our foxhole, that sets the tone for our company culture, because our core employees create a healthy, fruitful center.

How our clients benefit: Trustworthy teammates who practice authentic communication make for a reliable team. 

Hard work is heralded.

Corporate life has its challenges. But few days in the business trenches compare to the kind of adversity that most military vets endure. As employees, they bring a balanced perspective that comes from seeing what real challenges look like. And that resilience is contagious in the work environment, as their take-it-in-stride approach to life strengthens teams and stabilizes production.

Here’s an example. Our agency president, Lisa Menck-Shock, has a full plate in her personal life, with three kids under six years old along with her husband, all while managing daily operations and strategy for our 100-person firm. Lisa is also a Major in the Army Reserves, commanding a statewide medical support unit. Because of her military role, she’s also served as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and ophthalmology technician, trained in medical logistics, planning, operations and patient care. I don’t know about you, but if I’m in a bind seeking support on multiple levels, I want a Lisa Menck-Shock on my team—someone who’s comfortable tackling a challenge because she’s been there and done that.

How our clients benefit: Enthusiasm in the face of uphill battles wins wars. 

Service comes standard.

This year our company unveiled a new emphasis on our corporate “why,” setting our sights squarely on making a difference in the world. It wasn’t a stretch for any of our amazing employees, but it’s safe to say, for those who once raised their hands to serve, each service member has already proven their willingness to embrace the service-first mantra. Our commitment seems to connect in the marketplace, attracting meaningful opportunities to serve two new healthcare clients, a client-focused financial services firm and a new call center contract to help people quit tobacco.

How our clients benefit: Singularity of purpose transforms companies into world changers.

That’s what has worked for us for the last decade. Fortunately, even if you don’t have the luxury of hiring a huge number of vets, there are three ways you can get the benefits of an engaged workforce that shares your corporate values:

1. Identify your company values. Attracting quality people isn’t just about credentials—it’s also about heart. And if you haven’t identified what kind of values you want your employees to have, it’s going to be impossible to find the right candidates in your hiring process.

2. Display your values for all to see. For an organization to attract a certain kind of person, you need to let your light shine. For some companies, that means visibly engaging in charitable efforts. For others, it means giving away a certain amount of profits to worthwhile organizations. So, if your company values are languishing in the depths, buried deep in your site map on some oft-overlooked About page,  make your values more public.

3. Prioritize culture in your hiring process. Have you ever hired (or retained) somebody you didn’t think was right for the team because you thought they were still right for the job? It happens, but this quickly subverts your progress in the culture column. Building cohesion requires some sacrifices, and sometimes that means a few more resumes, a few more interviews, a few more investments—in time and resources—to align your hires with your heart.

But getting it right makes all the difference.  

We’re so proud of our veteran employee population that we’re devoting an entire wall in our office to their military photos, along with family and loved ones. We’d love for you to stop by and see it. Give us a call at 615-256-6282 or swing by any time.

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Marc Acton was born at a very young age in a moderately old town in Florida. Some other stuff happened, and then he became iostudio’s Associate Creative Director. For us, he proudly pokes and prods projects for the Army National Guard including social media and web, writing and strategizing content that converts. He is a fan of the Oxford comma, saying more with less, and helping write bios for extremely talented iostudians. He also flies helicopters for the Army National Guard. Which reminds us, how can you tell if a helicopter pilot is at your party? (He’ll tell you.)