June 1, 2011

What’s Business Acumen?

In this edition:

Are we developing our teams’ business acumen? Are we on the lookout for what could be done differently? Do we give our resources the necessary latitude to develop this key competency? Take note of our thought-provoking ideas on business acumen.

There’s a general consensus among consumer groups about Apple management demonstrating great business acumen at the beginning of 2000 by marketing the iPod and thus breaking into the huge online music market that was then becoming popular and accessible internationally. Closer to home, only a few months ago, Videotron also showed great business acumen by capitalizing on disgruntled mobile phone users frustrated with limited calling times.

Business acumen includes developing a totally new idea for a market or exploiting the weaknesses in a market to one’s advantage by providing a new or improved service. But there’s more to it than that. It is a much broader concept that can be hard to define, but that we’ll attempt to clarify.

What’s business acumen? Though the term is well known, it is often attributed different meanings so that you may not actually have a clear understanding of what it encompasses.

Business acumen is in fact a set of values that shape corporate culture. According to SAJE*, these values are:

  • Leadership
  • Sense of responsibility
  • Autonomy
  • Creativity
  • Solidarity

Why is it important to demonstrate business acumen?

At the personal level, well-honed and well -applied business acumen enables you to:

  • Find new business opportunities that will benefit your employer;
  • Take into account the various internal and external factors involved in making profitable decisions;
  • Implement highly creative ideas and solutions;
  • Increase the efficiency of your organization’s processes;
  • Improve collaboration among colleagues;
  • Undertake sound initiatives as you would if you owned the company.

As an employer, why is it important to insist on your resources’ business acumen?

  • Business acumen facilitates collaboration and understanding among resources performing different corporate functions, as well as their various issues and objectives. General consensus and acceptance of the corporate strategy is thus much easier to achieve.
  • Over the long term, your resources’ business acumen could help your organization differentiate itself in the marketplace through a more creative or value-added service offering. And it could allow you to create new business opportunities.
  • Several experts also believe that organizations’ business acumen can help them overcome crises more easily.

How can we develop our business acumen?

Business acumen is not necessarily innate and can’t necessarily be learned with schooling. This competency is therefore not linked per se to our education or learning.

Here are a few elements to help you develop your business acumen:

  • Be informed: Know your market and your clients specifically in order to spot key business opportunities;
  • Keep an open mind and develop your interests: Sharpen your analytical sense beyond your position or responsibilities; a resource who demonstrates business acumen takes into account other corporate departments that could be affected by decisions to be made;
  • Collaborate and rally: Your colleagues can put forward new viewpoints or solutions. Drawing on your colleagues’ competencies and rallying the team around a project or idea, participating in special teams or committees responsible for leading exciting initiatives that present challenges, such as improving quality, generating higher revenues, reducing costs or reengineering processes are definite skills.

Although business acumen can certainly be developed by acting on one or several of the above suggestions, one of the best ways is to learn through hands-on experience that poses various business challenges and scenarios.

The corporate environment is also a determining factor in developing this competency since resources must be given the necessary latitude to challenge our ways of doing things. Several means and tools are available to create a favourable environment and develop your teams’ business acumen.

As such, SSA can help you in various ways, for instance by leading a workshop on business acumen or by providing customized mentoring at the support or expert level to develop an idea generation program for employees. Visit our website to find out how we can work with you and your teams to develop business acumen— a key competency to achieve your business objectives.

Conclusion: Business acumen is a complex topic. When it is well-developed and applied, it can help you differentiate yourself as an individual and as an organization. It is therefore important to give serious consideration to this competency and build awareness among all employees about the critical issues surrounding business acumen.

*Service d’aide aux Jeunes Entrepreneurs



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