CEO SpotlightExecutive Education

Strategically Filling the Talent Gap, Tips from a Talent Management Leader

Meeting in office

In June 2021, a notable airline company was frantically working to reschedule flights for hundreds of passengers. Disorder halted the flow of operations. Flights were delayed, rescheduled, and canceled as angry customers demanded refunds. The impact on the airline’s brand and reputation was devastating. The event was so dire that I had to uncover the reason behind the chaos. Surveying the employees, I discovered the root cause of all the reschedules: staff shortages. The airline was operating on skeleton crews, and with a brief call-in, pandemonium broke the system into pieces. This airline is not alone; critical personnel shortages are straining productivity across organizations and industries, and what’s worse is constraints like these are accelerating.

If your organization is experiencing people shortages, there is hope. That’s right! There are hundreds of thousands of capable, potential employees eagerly awaiting to fill your assembly lines, operate your machinery, maintain your equipment, staff your functions, and lead your teams. These candidates are tailor-made to get your organization past the headwinds that have been straining productivity. But to leverage these potential team members, you can’t continue to work the same old way, especially when it comes to sourcing and acquiring talent.  Excluding potential candidates due to dogmatic job descriptions and looking past potentially rich pools of talent prevents your organization from diversifying its talent portfolio and limits your ability to overcome the challenges that many businesses face today.

As a general rule, employers fill open jobs with the candidates they believe are the most likely to 1. successfully do the work that needs to get done; 2. will fit well and add value to the team. This blend of technical capability and behavior/character is the foundation of organizational, team, and individual success. Therefore, businesses must look beyond established paradigms and dogma to optimize talent capability and explore new talent pools that bring fresh, diverse, and extremely valuable character and capabilities, even though traditional industry experience might be minimal.

CEO Spotlight: William E. “Bill” Kieffer

William E. "Bill" Kieffer, President & Chief Advisor at Kieffer & Associates
William E. “Bill” Kieffer, President & Chief Advisor at Kieffer & Associates

So, the question becomes, what talent source is best known for its honorable character and robust capabilities? I turned to a subject matter expert to shed light on this complex topic. William “Bill” Kieffer is a TEDx speaker, author, U.S. Army veteran, coach, and advisor to individuals and organizations across the globe. He has served over 20 years as a senior human resources and talent management leader for large, complex, global companies, including DB Schenker, Dana Corporation, and Amcor. His highly regarded expertise in creating and leading talent management strategies brings business strategies to life and optimizes talent capability. Bill knows how to explore upstream wells of top-tier talent, feed the front end of the talent pipeline, and ensure people are the force multiplier that keeps production moving and enables the achievement of planned business results.

What’s his secret? Simple: Approach talent as a business process, not an ancillary staff function or ‘side hustle.’

What is this pool that holds the hundreds of thousands of capable, potential employees eagerly awaiting to fill your open positions?  Prior Military Servicemembers.

“In times of market uncertainty and friction, your organization needs candidates possessing intangible core competencies to thrive—adaptability, dependability, teamwork, leadership, and self-discipline. These are the hallmarks of military veterans. Veterans developed these skills in the military, and they will continue to sharpen them in the private sector.” Bill stated. But how does a company go about effectively tapping into this often-overlooked pool of talent? Fortunately for us, Bill has agreed to share his best-kept secrets so that your organization can start implementing them into your talent acquisition strategy.

Tip 1. APPROACH THE ISSUE AS A BUSINESS DECISION. Leverage your best business decision-making processes to define the problem you are trying to solve / the opportunity you are attempting to seize. Know the Why’s, Who’s, and How’s. Don’t wing it. It’s a well-known fact that people are at the center of all other business drivers.  Execute your talent strategy diligently, and the ROI will be a more productive, engaged workforce and improved business results.

Tip 2. PLAN AND PREPARE YOUR PEOPLE AND YOUR PROCESSES.  Design and communicate your vision, concept, and targets. Collaboration will be vital to achieving your goals. Be thoughtful and realistic about funding. Make sound decisions around branding & marketing. Define and communicate goals and metrics, and track progress against them. Understand how ready your organization and people are for military veterans to join the team. After all, 90+% of the population never served in uniform, so veterans bring a new perspective and valuable experience to the table that is foreign to most people. Be clear on duties/responsibilities. Manage the program appropriately and be mindful that training and communication are vital to overcoming challenges and closing gaps.

Tip 3. SOURCE, RECRUIT & ATTRACT.  Do your homework. Decide which sources best meet your needs. Build strong relationships with your sourcing partners—leverage typical talent acquisition best practices. Concentrate on veteran-specific recruiting practices. Create a checklist of all the areas to canvas, such as military bases, social media, military job fairs, and websites. Engage the countless nonprofit organizations that exist simply to transition active-duty service members to private-sector careers. Execute well. Remember that your organization may be veteran-friendly, but if transitioning service members do not know your organization is hiring, you will miss out on potential talent.

Tip 4. INTERVIEW AND SELECT. Know the job(s) you are trying to fill (their scope, deliverables, expectations, key relationships, etc.). Prepare your people to read military resumes & interview veterans. The military is rich in leadership and project management tactics, have your team ready to spot superior potential by researching top-tier military leadership schools and certifications. Think beyond biases. Optimize process & timing transparency—leverage current military veteran team members. One best practice is to implement a veteran’s employee resource group (ERG.) An ERG is a fantastic tool to implement because it prompts prior service members to collaborate and support veterans as they enter your workforce.  Keep in mind, retaining talent is just as crucial as attracting talent. ERGs assist with both retention and attraction.

Tip 5. ONBOARD AND LEVERAGE (to engage and retain). Veterans are used to robust, value-adding onboarding. In the military, it starts as early as boot camp and basic training. Providing a similar structure as any employee onboards can make a significant difference in reducing your attrition rate. Establish a clear mission, purpose, and accountability. Provide frequent, real-time feedback. Ensure the organization knows veteran hiring is a priority; Identify how you can employ veterans’ excellent capabilities to achieve competitive advantage – assign them where they can be optimized. Establish clear expectations and scope. Help close organizational culture gaps/obstacles. Involve veterans in decision-making. Match the job to the veteran’s capabilities; Provide training and development opportunities for broader impact. Finally, ensure sustainable leadership buy-in & support. Veterans will look to your leadership as the example, and with your support, they will get your company rolling again.

Ultimately, CEOs worldwide seek to optimize opportunities to meet/exceed business targets and shareholder/stakeholder expectations across all functions. Therefore, investing the time, attention, focus, and resources into a talent strategy that includes a competent, experienced talent pool is the right thing to do. As we have discussed above, there is no better source than military veterans. If your organization is struggling to retain employees and fill positions, hire a vet! Your bottom line will thank you for the investment. For more of Bill’s talent management insight, check out his book titled “Military Career Transition: Insights from the Employer Side of the Desk.” Again, your talent acquisition team will thank you for doing so.


Written by Ernest R. Twigg.

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Ernest R. Twigg
Ernest R. Twigg is an award-winning senior executive advisor, author, and speaker at 1st Battalion, 11th Marines. He leads 850 employees and has consulted c-suites across industries to unleash the leadership potential in their employees. Ernest's insight is sought after and is codified in his book "A Leader Provides" and various magazine articles that transcribes military leadership into private-sector gains. Ernest lives in California, where he spends his days playing chess and studying human performance, neuroscience, and leadership. Ernest R. Twigg is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.