Part 2: Establish and Sustain Your Veterans Business Resource Group

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1 jobsmission.com Friday, December 12, 2014 Leading Practice Business Resource Groups Your Force Multiplier Part 2: Establish and Sustain Your Veterans Business Resource Group In this section of the Veterans BRG Leading Practice, Part 2, you will find not only the steps to establish a resource group within your organization, but some tips that will ensure your group can be functioning in the short term with proven practices that will help it be sustainable for the long term. Part 2 also examines the types of hurdles other organizations encountered while managing their Veterans BRG and provides some ideas on how to help your business avoid them, or at minimum, mitigate their impact.

2 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Veterans BRGs may be one facet of a Veteran s Initiative or it may be the full extent of a firm s effort to support its veteran employees. Regardless, the key to the long-term success of a Veterans BRG is establishing a solid foundation for the group from the very beginning. To launch a Veterans BRG find a leader for the group who believes in its mission and has the support of an executive sponsor. Establishing this alignment early in the BRG s implementation is important to secure funding and ensure the group s charter is aligned with both the group s interest and the business goals. Planning and conducting activities soon after the group is formed helps to attract and engage its members. Communicating the BRG s actions and progress across the organization demonstrates a return on management s investment and attracts other veterans to become involved. No matter how well the Veterans BRG is structured, it will encounter challenges. Early in the group s implementation finding ways to secure resources and to build support for the BRG across the business are critical. Successful BRGs have found establishing a compelling mission and demonstrating how group projects positively impact this mission help to overcome these challenges. As the group matures, scaling it to address the size of the firm, planning for leadership succession, and maintaining volunteer member engagement tend to be the challenges that must be overcome. Examining group structure and ensuring the group is focusing on the priority projects that directly align with member interests and business goals can help overcome obstacles that may limit the group s long term success. Many of the aspects important to launching a successful Veterans BRG are the very tenets that will sustain it according to 100,000 Jobs Mission coalition members. Sharing proven practices to leverage group benefits across the firm; establishing visible, empowered leadership to engage both the organization s veteran and non-veteran workforce; and providing clear and consistent communications are all critical success factors in sustaining a vibrant Veterans BRG. Additionally, promoting healthy competition among an organization s BRG chapters to leverage lessons learned and educating employees about military service help to sustain these primarily volunteer groups. HOW TO ESTABLISH A VETERANS BRG For organizations with a strong veteran s initiative establishing a Veterans BRG is a proven practice to engage veteran employees across all areas of the business. For smaller organizations that may not have the resources or desire to launch a more formal program, the Veterans BRG may offer an attractive, more accessible approach. Regardless of the motivation behind launching a BRG the key to success is establishing a solid foundation for the group at the very beginning. The following steps and tips represent the recommendations of 100,000 Jobs Mission members who have successfully implemented BRGs. (See Figure 6: Tips to Form a Veteran s BRG) 2

3 Find a passionate leader and gauge interest The best Veterans BRGs are started by individuals who are passionate about helping veterans succeed in the business. But before starting make sure there is interest in the program on an enterprise level. While no interest might kill the program before it even begins, hearing no as you start to talk about the BRG may just mean the organization needs some education about how a BRG would support its veterans initiatives. Create a strong what s in it for the organization and the veteran story to help build understanding of the benefits of implementing a BRG. Gain executive engagement Having an executive sponsor who will act as an advocate for the Veterans BRG is critical. As you evaluate the organization s interest in supporting a BRG, identify which executive(s) wants to assist. Determine if they are in positions to help the group overcome barriers to success. Ask if they will take on the sponsor role and help advocate for this program. As you probe their response, determine their expectations for the BRG to help you build its charter. Figure 1: Implement a Systematic Approach to Form a BRG Be able to state the business reason for their existence. Have a minimum number of documented members. Develop and maintain an annual plan of activities and events. Have a leadership team with built in leadership succession (i.e., from vice chair to chair) to ensure continuity. Assign an executive sponsor and implement a sponsor evaluation process for continuous improvement and sharing lessons learned Source: Rebecca R. Hastings,SPHR, Measure Employee Resource Groups to Yield Business Results, 2007 Find funding Veterans BRGs are generally all-volunteer organizations. However, to take action and hold events the groups need funding. Work with your executive sponsor to determine a budget commitment from the company. Look to your network to help garner funding and sponsorships for events. Be prepared for the ask. Have a presentation ready to describe the role and activities of the Veterans BRG in support of veteran employees and the company. Clearly articulate the group s desired outcomes and how their sponsorship (money, personnel, time, venue, etc.) will benefit both the sponsor and the veterans. 3 Develop charter and structure Work with a small leadership team to evaluate what you learned through conversations with company management as you established the Veterans BRG. Use this information to identify the mission and scope of the group. Institute a governance structure that takes into account the overall company size; for example, determine if the BRG will be one main group or many smaller groups based on the business geography. Determine a leadership structure which supports group succession and sustainability. Define metrics to demonstrate progress. Start small and use the group s success to build interest and grow.

4 Plan marketing and communications Once the Veterans BRG is established, develop and implement a marketing and communication plan. This plan needs to answer three critical questions: What is in it for the company? What is in it for veterans? What is in it for non-veteran employees? Use various communications vehicles to promote the group and its activities. Consider how your messaging will reach veterans and stakeholders at all levels and geographic locations within, and potentially external to, the organization. Ensure the messaging is clear and consistently delivered. Conduct kick-off to engage veterans Consider a kick-off meeting to announce the Veterans BRG and gain some early momentum. Check with your organization s human resources office to locate and invite veterans to the kick-off. Use this meeting as an opportunity to initiate the group s veteran employee database, build consensus around the group s mission and scope, and gauge interest in various endeavors to deploy the mission. Take action 100,000 Jobs Mission members have found one of the critical success factors for Veterans BRGs is to plan and conduct activities early after the BRG is formed. By quickly taking action that builds on the group s mission and its members interests, members are engaged and retained. Other veterans are attracted to participate in the events and often will join the BRG. Organizations may have employees who have not indicated they are veterans. Holding events to recognize veterans service helps build group membership and camaraderie and allows other employees to self-identify their military experience. Report progress Nothing builds stakeholder support better than success. Reporting on the progress of the Veterans BRG demonstrates a positive return on investment to management, validates the group s efforts, and provides a reason for other veterans to become involved. When the group encounters challenges be sure to report them accurately and describe the actions the BRG is taking to overcome the issues to move forward. ADDRESSING CHALLENGES WHEN ESTABLISHING A VETERANS BRG As with any initiative, establishing a Veterans BRG comes with challenges as well as rewards. Sometimes obstacles provide an opportunity to step back and reassess the group s implementation strategy. The following challenges were experienced as 100,000 Jobs Mission members deployed their Veterans BRG programs. Leverage the experience of the coalition members to understand the implications these obstacles may have on your group s success and act proactively to overcome the hurdles. Scaling it (to make it a countrywide initiative) Starting your Veterans BRG with a small, focused team is a proven practice, but growing it to encompass the entire enterprise may be challenging. Establishing Veterans BRG chapters in all 4

5 of your firm s locations takes planning. Institute guidelines and procedures upfront, define a clear business purpose for the group, and ensure communications are easy to understand and consistent from the group s launch forward sets a strong foundation as you increase the number of BRG locations. If your organization has offices in large metropolitan areas, it is important to locate the BRG where members can easily gather. Determine if there is a central location, easily accessible by all. There may be value in establishing more than one BRG in various parts of the city if travel to a single location is prohibitive and the number of veterans warrants. Use of video or web-based conferencing is another option to bring geographically dispersed members together. Recruiting and engaging members Often organizations hesitate to start a Veterans BRG because they don t believe they have enough veterans in the company. Privacy challenges and limited veteran-focused programming may limit the ability to easily identify potential members. Lisa Rosser, owner of The Value of a Veteran, a Northern Virginia-based organization that teaches organizations how to recruit and retain military veterans, does not believe this is true. Chances are you have more [veterans] than you realize, she said in a webinar for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), Veteran ERGs: Deriving Real Business Value From a Veteran Employee Resource Group. (Hastings, 2012) 100,000 Jobs Mission members have found veterans self-identify when programs or events are offered around issues they find important. Coalition members have found using a company-wide campaign not only helps recruit Veteran BRG members, but provides an opportunity for veterans to self-identify as well. Use a Veterans BRG website to promote the group s purpose, programs, and projects. Link the site to the homepage of the company s employee-facing website with a Join Today button. Host networking events to help veterans learn about and make connections with each other as well as leaders across the business. Provide regular communications about Veterans BRG programs across all of the organization s locations (versus just at one site), to keep employees and BRG members interested and informed. Once veterans have joined the BRG, it may be a challenge to keep members actively involved and volunteering to support the group s projects. It is important to remember members are volunteers; they have full time jobs, families, and outside interests. 100,000 Jobs Mission member companies found limiting the number of events and programs to the critical few that directly align with member interests helped address this challenge. Having fewer, priority events increased the number of volunteers who signed up and showed up to support projects. Resourcing BRGs Finding funding for Veterans BRGs is mentioned as a challenge by many 100,000 Jobs Mission member companies. But that is only one of the resource challenges experienced by BRGs. Finding the staff and time to work on BRG projects are equally important. 5

6 In its 2011 survey of 64 mostly global companies, Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, found the manner in which organizations fund their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) varies depending on each company s structure, the rationale behind the groups existence, and their maturity. For the firms surveyed Mercer found the average annual budget for ERGs was $7,203 for every 100 group members (not counting the cost of technology, facilities and staff support). Further the survey respondents reported having, on average, 1.4 full-time equivalent employees dedicated to the management, coaching, and coordination of their ERGs. This number did not take into account the additional time spent during the workday by ERG members, executive sponsors, and others who coach and train ERG officers, meet with the groups, and participate in events. (Hastings, 2011) Mission members have found ensuring the Veterans BRG has a clearly defined, business purpose helps to obtain staff support, funding, and other resources required to implement group projects and programs. The upfront effort taken to identify and engage interested business leaders when the Veterans BRG is forming also helps to secure the resources necessary for the group s success. These interested business leaders may set aside budget funding to support special events or to pay for a full-time employee to help manage and coordinate the groups projects. For group projects that extend into the community, Mission members suggest looking for sponsorships with stakeholders outside of the firm. Their Veterans BRGs report the benefits of engaging an external sponsor extends beyond the availability of additional funds, venue, or staffing. The benefit of community support for their project pays dividends for future initiatives. Planning for succession As a Veterans BRG matures, the initial leadership team may move on to other leadership positions. Establishing a succession plan early in the group s history ensures a pipeline of leaders with the skills, experience, and network to continue driving the group s success. Consider different leadership structures and evaluate which would work best within the culture of your organization; for example, instituting Co-Chairs in leadership positions so there are backups or having a succession of Vice Chair, Chair, and Past Chair with roles and responsibilities for each or stagger the tenure for leadership positions to provide the group with continuity. Limit the length of time for leadership roles. Knowing there is a defined beginning and end to a role may encourage individuals to take on leadership s additional responsibilities. Building support for Veterans BRG across the company Many BRGs face the same challenge; gaining understanding of its members concerns, challenges, and interests by other employees. This is true for Veterans BRGs, as well. 100,000 Jobs Mission members found that educating all employees about military service is critical to the success of the organization s veterans initiatives, including Veterans BRGs. Education helps build rapport between the civilian and the 6

7 veteran workforce and enhances organizational teamwork. Further support is gained when firms can demonstrate how hiring veterans and implementing veterans programs benefits all employees. Engaging hourly employees Veterans are hired at all levels in organizations; from leadership roles to hourly positions. While finding time to participate in Veterans BRGs programs held during working hours is not always easy for exempt employees, it is even more difficult for hourly employees. Companies struggle with ways to pay for their hourly employees time and cover their assigned tasks when they are involved in BRG events. 100,000 Jobs Mission members understand the importance of involving all levels of employees in their veterans initiatives. Some Mission member companies find setting a policy to establish the timing of BRG events has helped address this challenge. Organizations have a set number of events per year and establish a budget to pay for hourly employee involvement while others have a policy that all BRG activity is held on your own time. Rather than dictate the timing of an event, some firms require BRGs to schedule events far in advance and advertise them internally to help managers plan for hourly employee involvement. Regardless of when Veterans BRG events are held, Mission members indicate it is important to make certain employees benefit from the programs even if they are unable to attend. Members send their employees event giveaways such as pens or shirts or set up vouchers for use across the organization s offices when they cannot participate. Many members record programs and host the recording on a shared employee intranet or website to view at a time that fits with the employee s schedule. Coordinating with other company departments/initiatives Veterans BRGs are often engaged in both employee and community outreach. However, BRGs are not the only ways businesses interact with employees or the community. Communication between departments and company organizations is imperative. It helps to align initiatives and minimize duplication while promoting cooperation between groups. 100,000 Jobs Mission organizations often use their Community Affairs or Community Relations office to provide program oversight. Potential duplication of efforts are brought to the attention of senior leadership to assign priorities and assure alignment between the groups. SUSTAINING A VETERANS BRG Once Veterans BRGs were established, 100,000 Jobs Mission companies learned there were key practices to help sustain them: 7

8 Practices sharing -- Members found benefits in sharing how programs and projects were implemented among their resource groups, including the Veterans BRGs. Groups indicated they were able to leverage lessons learned in future endeavors. Visible leadership -- Establishing a visible Veterans BRG leadership team benefits the group s leaders, but also the company and the group itself. One reason veterans join a BRG is to advance their career through the group s networking opportunities. Ensuring the leadership team has opportunities to increase their visibility across the enterprise increases the likelihood of recruiting employees into those roles. A visible leadership team helps companies promote their veterans initiatives internally and externally; increasing employee support, building good will, and improving brand recognition. Securing resources is critical to sustaining BRGs. A visible leadership team helps the group attract funders and sponsorships for programs and events. Central communications -- As the number of available means to communicate has increased, 100,000 Jobs Mission members have established central points of contact to ensure their Veterans BRGs send strong, consistent messaging. Finding a way of balancing centralization and consistency of communications with immediacy of information is a critical success factor to BRG sustainability. This is especially true in organizations where the use of social media to work collaboratively is increasing. Consistent communications Sending weekly or bi-weekly battle rhythm s has proven to be a best practice according to many Mission members. The regularity of information about how Veteran BRGs are actively supporting veterans demonstrates the group s benefits to all employees. These messages also help hold the groups accountable for project implementation and results. Competitive nature 100,000 Jobs Mission members promote healthy competition among BRG chapters. Members have found building on the groups competitive nature has inspired creativity and resulted in a greater number of program implementations and veterans served. An added benefit of these friendly competitions is the conversation that occurs between groups as they learn how different teams executed their projects. Educated workforce The more employees know about military service the better their support for veterans and the company s veteran s initiatives. Mission members have instituted a variety of learning experiences to educate their workforce including online training programs, such as Military 101 ; posted information, such as a Chart of Military Rank; links to additional resources, such as the Department of Labor s O*Net translation between military grades and civilian job levels; and company events, such as Memorial Day celebrations. 8

9 CONCLUSION The 100,000 Jobs Mission created a Task Force to discuss the benefits of Veterans BRGs. Members of the Task Force found that despite the differences between their individual companies there were similar important steps to implementing and sustaining the resource groups. Making sure the organization s leadership supports the initiative, taking action aligned with the interest of group members leading to positive impact, managing consistent and clear communications, and building a pipeline of group leaders were reported as critical to the Veterans BRG s success in the short and long term. While hurdles were encountered by all, proven practices were shared to overcome and add momentum to the Veterans BRG s success. 9

10 RESOURCES Hastings SPHR, RR, Employee Resource Groups Drive Business Results. Available from <http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/diversity/articles/pages/employeegroupsdrivebusinessresults.aspx>. [26 June 2014]. Hastings SPHR, RR, Employee Resource Groups for Veterans Deliver Results.,< uf>. [26 June 2014]. ABOUT THE 100,000 JOBS MISSION Launched in 2011, the 100,000 Jobs Mission brings together companies committed to hiring U.S. military veterans and military spouses. The 182 companies now involved have pledged to hire 200,000 veterans by They hired 190,046 veterans through the third quarter of For more information on the 100,000 Jobs Mission, visit jobsmission.com. Legal Disclaimer The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this article are those of the individuals and do not reflect the views and opinions of JPMorgan Chase & Co or its affiliates. 10

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