5 Lessons Veterans in GovCon Teach Us All
Veterans Day is a time of reflection and of gratitude. For those in Federal contracting who (like me) are not veterans, it’s also an opportunity to learn more, begin a conversation, or deepen a friendship with someone who has served.
We want — and need — to hear more about what inspired you to enlist in the first place, and what drives you today to continue to serve our country as an entrepreneur.
Today, I want to pay special tribute to post-9/11 Veterans who are now Federal contractors.
When I was reflecting on your generation, I ran across a term I hadn’t heard before.
Did you know? Xennials are the micro-generation of people between Generation X and Millennials, born between 1977 and 1985. Wikipedia notes that the term was “Reported to be first created and used in a September 2014 article in GOOD magazine written by freelance writer Sarah Stankorb and then-GOOD Magazine staff writer Jed Oelbaum.” In 2020, Xennial was added to the Oxford Dictionary.
What I learned cracked open an idea that could make a difference for you, your business, and the Federal buyer you were meant to serve.
Why Your Post-9/11 Service Experience Is So Powerful
You served in what many people don’t realize is now the longest war in US history — a war that still isn’t over.
9/11 was your pivotal, coming-of-age, event. It changed the trajectory of your life. It made you drop everything, see things you didn’t see before, and gave you crystal-clear focus on the purpose of your life.
In that moment, you chose a life of service. That moment changed who you were. It probably shaped your career, your finances, your mate, your friends, your family, your finances, your future, and your personal happiness.
One or more among five traits of Xennials may be what attracted you to military service in the first place.
If you went on to start a business in Federal contracting, these qualities give you powerful advantages as both a prime contractor and a teaming partner well beyond small business contracting preferences to drive your business and personal success.
Five Power Traits of Xennial Veteran GovCons
1. You Are Both Purpose-Driven AND Mission-Focused.
Kim Mackenzie, Principal at Ripley Strategy, observed that Xennials she worked with combine a phenomenal sense of purpose with extraordinary commitment to follow through. “Xennials have the idealism of millennials but the realism and ‘Get Stuff Done’ attitude of Gen Xers. When they say something matters to them, they follow through and deliver.”
Your military experience deepened your sense of purpose, steeped it into every aspect of your being.
As a civilian entrepreneur, that sense of purpose keeps you laser-focused on not only the mission of your business, but also on the mission of your clients, customers, and teaming partners.
And it’s part of why you are uniquely poised for business and personal success as an entrepreneur in what you might consider the battlespace of the Federal market today.
2. You’re Entrepreneurial And Take Ownership.
Your work is not just something you do: it’s who you are. That’s a vital quality for successful entrepreneurs. If it were just about the money, you’d still be working for somebody else.
Karin Eldor, Senior Contributor at Forbes, notes, “Xennials… love to feel a sense of pride in what they’re doing; they’re not driven by salary alone. They feel accountable for their work and take ownership in it.”
Skowronski observed: “They demand more than a consistent paycheck… they care about feeling connected to the greater mission of the organization.”
3. You Expect, Adopt, and Adapt to, New Technology Fast.
You’re old enough to remember life before wifi and smart phones, and young enough to be an early and enthusiastic adopter.
“They have… information at their fingertips from a multitude of resources (on and off the web), [and] they are fast to retrieve it,” said Skowronski.
As a warrior, the ability to master new and fast-evolving technologies fast was part of your job description. As a civilian now, that ability remains a professional — and personal — competitive advantage.
Because you seek out intelligence from multiple sources and synthesize what you learn, and discover unique insights and competitive advantages that others miss. And when your Federal buyer launches a new online acquisition system, forecast, resource, or event, you dig in and master it, pronto. That gives you months of advantage over competitors who are just too busy with business as usual.
4. You Have Cross-Generational Savvy.
You have the high-speed digital content savvy of millennials, but still appreciate the physical experience of picking up a good book, laying on the floor reading the Sunday paper, or maybe even the smell of a reference library..
You’re closer in age to Generation Xers than Millennials. Maybe your parents, and many of your commanding officers, were Baby Boomers… many of whom retired to Federal civilian government jobs and may be your prospective buyers now. You can understand their values, read what they read, and speak their languages.
5. You Know The Courage It Takes To Be Vulnerable.
Your military leaders include Air Force Colonel DeDe Halfhill, Special Assistant for Public Affairs to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who led 2000 troops as Commander, 332nd Expeditionary Force Support Squadron, Joint Base Balad, Iraq, and Major Mike Erwin USA (Retired), West Point graduate who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rather than moving through your everyday world all armoured up, leaders like these have begun a shift in military culture to recognize the vital importance of acknowledging vulnerability and imperfection on the journey to tackling extraordinary challenges..
Which means that you’re going to have an easier time than previous generations of veteran entrepreneurs as you build relationships with the Federal buyers and partners who need to trust you before they do business with you.
Today, as an Xennial veteran business owner in the Federal arena, one or more of these traits may be the secret to why the way you do business is raising the bar for what Federal buyers expect from all govcons. Those qualities may not come naturally to the rest of us… but they set a powerful example for all the rest of us in govcon.
Of course “generational traits” don’t apply equally to everyone born between certain years. But the ideas give us a better understanding of how we’re all connected as human beings.
My challenge to you: next time you meet a business owner whose web site or card has the “SDVOSB CVE” logo, be sure to invite a conversation about their military service and what led them to entrepreneurship.
Finally, whether or not you’re a veteran business owner, if you don’t think human connection is important to you as a Federal contractor… then that may be why you’re struggling to grow your business.
It can be easier. Because there’s no such thing as selling to “government.” There’s only selling to people. Other humans in the Federal arena.
Start by picking up the GovCon Personas Infographic. It’s free, and links to a free guide to make it all easier.
Get yours HERE.