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Patricia Ockenden

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The power of internal networks: focus on Armed Forces Networks


Creating channels for staff to connect with other employees across the organisation has proved to be a source of real value. But some businesses are taking this further. Some organisations are investing in an internal network with a strategic purpose such as bridging skills gaps, nurturing diversity and inclusion, boosting talent acquisition and retention and increasing employee engagement. They are seeing tangible results. 

DHL, HSBC UK, J.P. Morgan and Rolls-Royce share their experience on the business benefits of creating an Armed Forces Network and explain what you need to know to launch and sustain a successful network within your business.

DHL’s Armed Forces Network: driving recruitment and retention

David Andrews, Vice President, Projects, DHL

Before joining DHL in 2004 I served as a Royal Marines Officer for eight years and worked for several third-party logistics organisations. This experience and my knowledge of the key skills that service men and women develop while serving, made me realise how important it is for business to harness these skills and to smooth their transition into a commercial environment.

In addition to the tremendous support we give to forces’ charities, I was also aware that as an organisation we could be doing more to support our Reservists. In response, I helped set up an Armed Forces network in 2014 and since then, we have achieved some fantastic outcomes.

In particular, we have introduced initiatives to make it easier to recruit and mentor service leavers, implemented a best-in-class Reserves policy, matched funds raised for service charities and provided logistics support to the British Legion.

This has improved our staff retention and helped us achieve our recruitment goals by ensuring suitable candidates are not overlooked because their qualifications are not understood.

Top tips for maintaining a network

  • A network needs a constant drip-feed of information so its value remains fresh in people’s minds. We use our internal communications channels including Yammer, our magazine and news channels to communicate good news stories and events such as Reserves Day, Remembrance Day and military visits to sites, as well as mentoring opportunities.
  • We have also employed a liaison manager to act as the conduit between recruiting managers and service leavers.
  • Wherever possible, we have allocated a network champion within sites to help us spread the word about the value of military skills and the support available.
  • As knowledge of our activities spreads, the impact ripples through our organisation, further strengthening the network and the support we can offer to the Armed Forces community. 

HSBC’s UK Armed Forces Network: driving employee engagement

Steven Lee, Delivery and Assurance Lead, HSBC

We formed the HSBC UK Armed Forces Network in 2014 to enable employee engagement across the UK and to enact on our pledges in the Armed Forces Covenant. The Network quickly gained senior leader support which, in turn, accelerated employee involvement and momentum.

We have been at the forefront of leading change, for example we initiated a change in HR policies to enhance the support we provide to our employees who are Reservists and Cadet Force Adult Volunteers, so we now have one consistent policy which provides them with the flexibility they need to serve the country and have a career at HSBC.

As well as focusing on our employees, we have also reviewed our products and services for Armed Forces customers, which led to the extension of our consent-to-let policy to three years for those about to serve overseas, and a review of our travel insurance to include claims against short-notice military deployments.

Our focus and tangible impact led HSBC to become the proud recipients of the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme Gold Award 2016 and be formally recognised by HSBC UK as an active contributor to the bank’s diversity and inclusion agenda.

Top tips for maintaining a network:

  • Forming a network requires patience and time as it can be absorbing and distract from your day job.
  • So to begin with, create a committee to help, identify quick wins, and maintain a long-term perspective.
  • It’s vital that you quickly gain senior leader support and be sure to pin your objectives to a business outcome.  

J. P. Morgan’s Armed Forces Network: harnessing and nurturing the veteran talent pool

Vignesh Ashok, EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Officer, J.P. Morgan

J. P. Morgan has championed the recruitment of service leavers from all ranks for many years. In our experience, veterans have proved to be capable leaders who show the energy and management skills that we need in our bank’s pressurised and high performance environment.

They are also great self-starters with strong motivation and initiative who, in difficult situations, land on their feet.

We understand what they bring to the table and also the challenge of their transition into a commercial environment. We wanted to attract more of them into the business and also help them adapt to a new career in a corporate setting.

So we set up our Armed Forces Network to help them gain exposure into financial services, strengthen their skills and experience and give them coaching and mentoring once they joined the business.

As a result, we have built a more diverse workforce and have attracted excellent talent who have made our business stronger.

Top tips for starting a network:

  • Starting a network means going above and beyond your day job, so a network leader should be a passionate advocate.
  • It’s important to get senior sponsorship from HR so it’s a good idea to involve your diversity and inclusion teams.
  • Build a charter for the network to govern things such as the tenure of the leader, the role of marketing and communications and budget reporting.
  • Write a business case for the creation of the group so it is supported within the firm at all levels.

Rolls-Royce’s Armed Forces network: building a support community for a resilient business

Mark Miller, Vice President UK Industry, Defence Aerospace

The skills and positive attitudes of service leavers have provided a natural fit for roles across Rolls-Royce, including engineering and programme management. As an ex-soldier myself, I was motivated to create an internal support group for ex-service personnel, who often find it difficult to make the leap into a commercial environment.

So five years ago I launched our Armed Forces network. Our pledges under the Armed Forces Covenant provided a vision for that original network to thrive and expand. Today, it’s evolved into a bigger support community that connects not only our veteran employees but also our Reservists, Cadet Force Adult Volunteers and their families. The results have been amazing.

By expanding contacts with local Reserve units and recruiting teams, raising awareness of our Armed Forces friendly approach at open days and through social media, we have created an environment where we share ideas and support each other.

We’ve seen huge benefits: an increase in employee engagement, an inclusive culture and diversity within the business.  And as the network grows, we are starting to get a real picture of all the good work that is being done by our colleagues including working with forces charities. This should develop into other areas such as work experience packages and supporting budding entrepreneurs to start their own business.

Top tips for setting up a network: 

  • You don’t really need to reinvent the wheel. There will be other organisations that have already set up a network of this kind, so talk to them, identify best practice and adapt.
  • Don’t be afraid to start small and consider running a pilot within part of the business before you roll out to the rest.
  • Be very clear about the business objectives of the network and communicate this to senior management and your HR team.
  • Use the Armed Forces Covenant to focus the long-term vision for the group.

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