ManpowerGroup executive manager and former Australian Army artillery major, Glenn McPhee, reveals what the ad industry can learn from the defence forces when it comes to professional development, diversity and leadership.

TCC: Do you see any similarities within the defence force and the advertising industry when it comes to recruitment, retention and leadership?

GM: Businesses across the board are equally challenged by issues related to recruitment. Every company and organisation is competing in a war for talent – the ongoing skills shortage is contributing to how difficult it is to recruit people across a range of sectors.

When it comes to retention, the defence force has a unique advantage in that naturally people move into a new role or location every two to three years. So a lot of positive change is built into the system, which leads to continued engagement because each new role brings with it a fresh challenge. That’s why the military has longer retention compared with a lot of other industries.

Also, I think the military is vastly more flexible at moving people across career streams, for example, from operations into HR. Industries, by comparison, is quite inflexible – nobody really would move from HR into operations as it would be perceived ther is too much to learn. In the military, moving people across career streams is based on their potential and ability to learn, and I think industry could take more from that.

Another thing I think the defence force and advertising are equally passionate about is diversity. Both industries are achieving a lot of positive outcomes here.

TCC: What lessons do you think executives in the advertising can learn from the military? Equally, do you think those in the military can learn anything from the advertising industry?

GM: Leadership is leadership regardless of whether it’s in the military or in a corporate environment. A manager is a leader no matter what, the only variable is whether they are a good, bad or indifferent leader.

One thing about the military though is that even the newest team leader is expected to have a complete focus on developing their leadership skills. I think this focus is less so in the corporate world and people are more allowed to be self-paced. There is less expectation from an organisation on people in their first leadership role really pushing their leadership skills.

The military on the other hand invests heavily in helping develop every leader at all levels, which ties back to the link between professional development and leadership. In the corporate world, a junior team leader may or may not get professional development. You may be one of the few with natural talent or you may be one of the lucky ones in an organisation with a strong professional development offering.

In the corporate world, development is often seen as a difficult investment to make at junior levels because it requires an upfront payment and the rewards may not be seen immediately. It has to be recognised that leadership develpment is a long term investment, and the reward is that maybe people won’t leave after two years if they’ve been given the right personal and professional development opportunities. It can lead to greater engagement and stronger leadership skills demonstrated three to five years down the track when that person is in a more senior role – but if done right it will pay back in spades.

TCC: At CommsCouncil, many of our professional development programs focus on moving people into the next level of their career, transitioning from an implementer to a leader. How have you managed this transition in your own career? What advice do you have here?

GM: One lesson I learnt early on is that you are your own best career manager. In the military, you have a career manager – who isn’t your boss and sits within the HR area – and in your early career you are encouraged to talk regularly to them so you can make the best move when new opportunities come up every two to three years. I was conscious in my early career to do this as much as possible to talk about exactly what I wanted and needed to do next.

In a corporate sense, between you and your boss you need to all be equally aligned and committed. Together you can set proactive and realistic goals. But, if you’re not having that conversation in the first place, your employer can’t know what it is you want to achieve. All the people I’ve helped the most in their careers have talked openly and realistically about their ambitions.

TCC: Your journey shows you can make a career shift and still be successful/senior. Do you think that’s true of any industry? What’s the secret to success here?

GM: It’s absolutely possible for anybody to make a career change. Millennials today are going to have career changes many times – it’s no longer about working for just one company or necessarily even having just one career. Individual career shifts are going to become more and more normal.

There is a bit of a risk for someone changing careers, as it involves leaving a job and career you might be comfortable and secure in so you have to be confident to take that step and you need to find the right opportunity. I was lucky that I had the opportunity to move into a strong new career after life in the military.

It’s not only the individual that must be open, it’s the company too. They have to be willing to take the step of hiring someone outside their field. I was lucky that my first boss after the military was open to somebody with my background. More companies need to be open to attracting people from different fields as the war for talent becomes more competitive. It’s not the person who’s got the best skills today that’s going to succeed the most, it’s the person who’s got the best potential to learn new skills. It’s all about learnability. Companies need to be more open to upskilling existing and new staff to attract different types of new talent and purse their commercial goals.

It’s the agile, innovative companies that are not only open to, but proactive about, upskilling and developing their people that will succeed more, compared with closed minded, slow moving companies.

When it comes to diversity, its not about diversity for a political quote to be met – it’s about capability. If you’re only recruiting from 50% of the population you won’t ever be assured of employing the smartest people.

TCC: Who are your own leadership role models, and why?

GM: My first boss in the army stands out. What I got from him was authenticity, honesty and his vision for the organisation. Not that he would let you get away with sub-par work, but because he was authentic and empathetic, he had people’s trust and we would all take his guidance. He was honest. He would never shirk the truth, whether it was being delivered downwards or upwards.

His vision permeated the whole organisation, and we were the top performing unit because of his clarity and passion.

TCC: What career advice would you give your children?

GM: I haven’t given them too much advice yet as they are pretty young still. My seven year old wants to be a horse riding ninja who plays soccer for Australia when she is older. For children I think it’s all about encouraging their interests and believing in their dreams.

When they get older though, I’ll advise them not to close off the subjects they choose in Year 11 and 12 so they don’t limit their choices in later life. I believe that what you do in senior school opens up your career options as much as what university does, so young people shouldn’t close themselves off to maths and science too early as it may limit their career paths. Also I would say don’t lock in your career too early as it is possible to change paths. Ultimately you should follow your dreams and passions.

Glenn McPhee is an executive manager for ManpowerGroup and director of recruiting services for Defence Force Recruiting. He left the Army in 2005 as a major in the artillery. He is presenting “The leader in us (all) and why the leader eats last” at the next AMG event in Sydney on May 18.