If we only had one (positive) word to describe the modern business world this would definitely be “dynamic”. So much is changing at such great speed that it takes very special and skilled leaders to guarantee constant competitive advantage and long term success. In order to stay on top of their game they need the ability to find, process and quickly act on the most recent information available to them.
Making big decisions fast and knowing when something is a major game changer and when it is just a fad is crucial to the present day leader. Anyone leading a company has to develop an acute sense of reading all things market related.
This particular way of keeping a constant eye on the big picture while working on making their own enterprise perform is called business acumen.
Acumen is not only a skill but an ongoing process
It may sound like something freshly made up by business coaches and consultants but it is actually a very old concept. Some may even say ancient, since the word ‘acumen’ is derived from the Latin verb ‘acuere’ which meant “to sharpen”.
This is highly relevant because just as is the case with the process of making a blade or a knife sharper, business acumen is not something innate. It implies a process in which a person becomes aware of everything going on in a relevant field and learns how to use all that data for an advantageous outcome.
And even if it is most valuable to formal leaders within a company, it is becoming increasingly apparent that business acumen is going to have to become the stuff of all members of the organisation.
The elements of business acumen
Fortunately, business acumen can be developed so all companies have to do is get the L&D people involved, figure out the gaps and set up an effective sharpening program. The first things to examine are the skills that employees competent in rapid and effective decision making have.
They are generally able to:
- Search for information in the most reliable places
- Quickly decide what is important for their field and what isn’t
- Think of several options for approaching or solving a certain new situation
- Discern the right path to take in order to overcome obstacles
- Rapidly adjust the course of action if variables change
- Get things going by setting everything into motion
- Evaluate the whole process described above and learn any valuable lesson it had presented.
Knowing yourself as well as the market
Taking a look at these essential skills, there are two major areas that will require attention: getting a good feel of the market and being actively aware of how the entire thought and decision-making processes work.
While the main focus will have to be the leaders within company, since they are the ones in charge of setting the direction and making decisions about pursuing or altering it, a successful organisation is one that manages to help all its members have some degree of business acumen.
Valuable employees do not only excel at their jobs but can also understand where they fit in the big picture and think of innovative ways they can improve it. The best employees are informed and empowered and it is the job of L&D specialists as well as team leaders to help them be and feel that way.
Sharing important business knowledge
Getting in depth knowledge of the business and staying on top of all new developments basically means reading more. It’s important that the sources are both varied and reliable. Industry blogs, magazines and conferences are good places to start but it’s good to take it one step further and enroll in workshops and courses.
The content may not necessarily be something you would not find in articles or vlogs but sharing experience with others in the same field will surely be of great value.
This sort of exchanging experience can also be achieved within the organisation by encouraging cross-training. Giving employees the opportunity to see first-hand how different departments and roles function will prove very helpful in understanding in-depth how the business operates. It will also generate a culture of continuous learning that will also prove very valuable in acquiring acumen.
Where the thinking process is concerned, there are some general aspects (our brains are wired in pretty much the same way) but it is the differences that … well … make the difference. That’s why the focus should be on supporting each person in becoming of aware of his or her individual patterns and preferences.
Personality tests are of great help as they show how each individual goes about solving problems and overcoming hurdles. Guided introspection will reveal both strong suits and weaknesses and show the ways in which to maximize the first and work on the latter.
It’s all about figuring out the shape of the blade in order to go about sharpening it in the most effective way.
Achieving transversal business acumen throughout the organization is not a one-time deal. It’s something that has to become a daily habit with the promotion of a continuous learning culture and a strong focus on employee empowerment.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.