Growing leadership through military skills at Project RELO

 |   Scott Emigh, CTO One Commercial Partner at Microsoft

Microsoft Military Affairs works to inspire the veteran community to transform their lives through meaningful opportunities in today’s digital economy.

It’s been two years now since I had my own Project RELO experience.  Taking the time to learn about the experience and training that our vets have gone through was time well-spent, as it continues to shape my view of what veterans bring to the business world.  Since that time, many others at Microsoft have had their own Project RELO experience, and I’m happy to report that the impact on them mirrors mine.

I have known Scott Emigh for nearly 20 years.  He is an exceptional and thoughtful leader in his own right, and one I have always looked up to.  Not satisfied being solely a practitioner, he has studied management and leadership and shares his insights to nurture the worldview of others in this space.   

Today is Veterans’ Day and November is Military Family Awareness Month. In celebration, we asked Scott to talk about his Project RELO experience, and he framed it in the context of Microsoft’s leadership principals.  I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did. And thank you to our nation’s service members.

— Adam J. Hecktman

This post has been adapted from Scott Emigh’s personal LinkedIn page.

Earlier this month I got to participate in a Project RELO mission at Camp Grayling in North Michigan. It was founded about seven years ago by several veterans looking to change the dialog around veteran recruiting in corporate America. The founders wanted to create the opportunity for execs in hiring positions to experience the leadership, teamwork, and collaboration skills of our military veterans in a setting uniquely tailored to their skill-sets. It doesn’t take long to see the parallels to challenges we face in the corporate world.

Having many veterans in my own extended family and with my long-standing respect for the military tradition of leadership and excellence in performance, I was thrilled to spend 3 days in the chilly, rainy weather and warm, inspiring company of my 15 Project RELO teammates – about half of whom were veterans themselves. We went from exercise to exercise: squad combat tactics, weapons range simulations, ATC driving (lots of ATC driving!), the tasty joy of MREs, proper radio comms, IED detection & remediation, and more, culminating each evening with a mission de-brief around the campfire.

Through all this I learned some valuable lessons that relate directly to the Microsoft Leadership Principals: Create Clarity, Generate Energy, and Deliver Success.

One of our very first lessons on the course was proper use of our radio communications – hand-held two-way radios that each team of two received. We were a gregarious group and jokes and wisecracks were welcome and appreciated, but the radio was for strictly business. Radio messages followed a clear protocol and if you heard your team’s name on the radio, you had better listen and reply.

When I think about the communications situation within my own team at Microsoft — we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to communications technology, from Outlook, to Teams, to Yammer, to SharePoint, and yet, Creating Clarity in that environment can be very challenging; when every channel is important, no channel is. I’ll be working with my leadership team to define our communication protocol to ensure that there is an appropriate outlet for all voices and messages while ensuring the most important messages are clearly heard.

Another surprise was that despite the fast pace and jam-packed curriculum and the fact that I wasn’t exactly getting my beauty sleep in my Army issued tent and sleeping bag, I never really felt tired. Reflecting on this, I believe it was the environment of engagement and empowerment that the Project RELO leaders created. We were never just told what to do. Our leaders provided Commander’s Intent (the real desired outcome – the “what” not the “how”) and some necessary details and then left it to the team to come up with creative solutions. In this way they were able to Generate Energy within the team, because we were personally invested in the outcomes. That…and the fact that this was a really fun group doing awesome activities together. I’ll be attempting to do a better job of expressing Commander’s Intent at work and not over-prescribing the solution.

Then there was Deliver Success, which happened because of the attention that our team leaders put on training. I was surprised to learn that 30% of military budget is spent on training. I heard several times, “You have to spend money to save money” in reference to the investment in quality training that results in critical tasks becoming muscle memory. I also was impressed to see how training was delivered by practitioners… not professional trainers. That makes a huge difference in credibility and authenticity. We already have a pretty strong focus on professional development and training in my One Commercial Partner technical organization, which I’m proud of, but I’ll be working to turn our training efforts up to eleven going forward.

And last but not least, I’m going to be prioritizing veterans in our recruitment efforts, so I can accelerate the adoption of those leadership principles in my organization and across Microsoft!

Learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to giving back to service members and their families here.