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Business Acumen Goes Beyond Finance: Q&A with President of Acumen Learning, Ben Cook

Business acumen is an essential skill set that goes far beyond finance. While finance is undoubtedly a critical aspect of business acumen, it is just one piece of the puzzle. To truly thrive in the dynamic landscape of today's business world, individuals need to cultivate a holistic perspective and embrace the broader implications of their choices. By developing business acumen, professionals can become invaluable assets to their organizations, playing a pivotal role in shaping strategies, fostering innovation, operating more efficiently, and delivering sustainable growth. Today we’ve asked our President, Ben Cook some questions about the topic. Here are his thoughts:


Question:

What is business acumen, and why is it important in today's business world?


Business acumen is the ability to understand how a business operates and makes money, along with the capacity to make informed decisions that contribute to its success. It goes beyond just finance and encompasses a holistic understanding of all aspects of an organization. In today's dynamic business landscape, business acumen is crucial because it empowers individuals to navigate complexities, identify opportunities, mitigate risks, and drive sustainable growth. It enables us to play a pivotal role in shaping our company's strategies and fostering innovation, ultimately propelling it toward success.



Question:

How does business acumen differ from financial acumen, and why is it important to make this distinction?


Business acumen differs from just financial acumen in that it's a broader skill set that encompasses a comprehensive understanding of all facets of an organization. While financial acuity is undoubtedly important and provides the language of business and is vital to think about how a company allocates resources and measures it financial outcomes, business acumen delves into the choices we make every day as individuals and as a company. It's about making decisions that contribute to the company's short- and long-term success, such as assessing the company’s market opportunities, where to best invest in product development to maximize market differentiation, how to operate most efficiently, what partners are best to help you grow, and drive choices on which markets to participate in. It also involves managing the tension between short-term and long-term goals, optimizing sales, and controlling costs. While financial acumen is a part of business acumen, it's essential to recognize that business acumen is about driving business success, not just pulling levers to drive short-term economic outcomes.



Question:

How can individuals go about developing their business acumen, and what are the key steps they should follow in this process?


To develop your business acumen, you should start by understanding how your organization works, including its products, customers, and competition. Learn about financial basics like your income statement (the P&L) and the company’s cash flows, but also seeing the company through its market position, price/volume/mix of your products that drive sales and market share, key risks, competitive dynamics, and the constraints you operate within. We have a ton of videos that go over the basics in these categories. I would also encourage you to think long-term and see how different parts of the business connect. Stay updated on industry trends, collaborate with colleagues, seek mentorship, and consider taking courses. Remember, it's an ongoing process of learning from both successes and failures! Business acumen is not a one-time event that you’ll walk away with. It takes work.



Question:

Could you elaborate on the importance of taking courses as part of the journey to enhance one's business acumen?


Taking business acumen courses can be doing things like taking courses on finance, strategy, operations, marketing, etc. If the audience doesn’t know, we have an online course that is a very digestible way to gain an understanding of business acumen. We go over the 5 things that all successful businesses think about. Cash, profit, assets, growth, and people. These are so crucial to the sustainability of business, and I think that’s a great first step in trying to develop your business acumen! But also having a cadence of listening to your/customers analyst calls, reading executive messaging, hearing from leaders from other parts of the business can also be hugely beneficial to developing this broader awareness of the business.



Question:

Why is it crucial for leaders to identify gaps in their team's business acumen?


I love this question! Do we have all day? I could go on and on about this one. Identifying gaps in the business acumen of your team is crucial for several reasons. It gives you a competitive edge. Having a team with strong business acumen ensures that your team is well-equipped to make informed decisions that drive the company's success. It can keep the team from being too myopic or short-term in their thinking. It can push their assumptions to seeing possibilities beyond what has been done in the past.


Teams with well-rounded business acumen are better at making effective decisions that consider both short-term and long-term implications. Teams that consider variables such as market trends, customer expectations, competitive position, profitability targets, etc. This allows leaders to address weakness and areas for improvement while also mitigating potential risks to help prevent costly mistakes. I would hope my team members understand the business impact of the work they do, because if one of my consultants doesn’t understand how their work helps us better impact the business of our customers, grow our impact to the customers we serve, finding new ways to better reach leaders and arm them with usable tools, and impact the bottom line of our company, they’ll be wasting a ton of time on things that aren’t worth working on.


Business acumen also helps align to the company’s goals. Like I briefly mentioned before, it ensures that everyone is working towards the same objectives. And for my last point, business acumen helps your team members continuously improve. Acknowledging gaps is the first step toward improvement. It opens the door to targeted training and development efforts to strengthen the team's capabilities.



Question:

Why is it crucial for leaders to identify gaps in their team's business acumen?


I love this question! Do we have all day? I could go on and on about this one. Identifying gaps in the business acumen of your team is crucial for several reasons. It gives you a competive edge. Having a team with strong business acumen ensures that your team is well-equipped to make informed decisions that drive the company's success.


Having business acumen equips you with effective decision making and risk mitigation. Teams with well-rounded business acumen are better at making effective decisions that consider both short-term and long-term implications. It allows leaders to address weakness and mitigate potential risks to help prevent costly mistakes. I would hope my team members understand the work their doing, because if one of my consultants doesn’t understand how his work helps the bottom line of our company, he’ll be wasting a ton of time on things that aren’t worthy.


Business acumen also helps align to the company’s goals. Like I briefly mentioned before, it ensures that everyone is working towards the same objectives. And for my last point, business acumen helps your team members continuously improve. Acknowledging gaps is the first step toward improvement. It opens the door to targeted training and development efforts to strengthen the team's capabilities.



Question:

How does business acumen empower individuals to make a meaningful impact on their organizations?


Well…business acumen certainly does equip individuals to have a significant impact on their organizations in several ways. First, it helps them make informed decisions that contribute to the company's success, while also identifying potential opportunities as well as better assess risks. Additionally, it encourages long-term thinking, allowing individuals to shape the company's direction and growth profile. Business acumen promotes collaboration between different departments, making it easier to work together for common goals once they are all ‘rowing in the same direction.’ It also inspires innovation, leading to new ways to create value and improve processes. In a changing and dynamic business environment, it enables adaptability to handle challenges and seize opportunities. Lastly, strong business acumen often goes hand in hand with leadership, as leaders with these skills can guide their teams to a brighter and better future.


That’s a bit of a long-winded question, but in summary, business acumen empowers individuals to play crucial roles in their organizations, influencing strategies, driving innovation, and ensuring sustainable growth, ultimately making a lasting impact on the company's direction and success.


ACTIVITY:

Now that you've explored the differences between finance and business acumen, let's engage in a learning activity you can do during your next team meeting:


Exercise 1: Business Acumen vs. Financial Acumen Challenge

  1. Briefly review the key points from the Q&A session with Ben Cook, and then split your group up into 2 teams.

  2. Each team has 5 minutes to generate examples of business acumen and financial acumen on separate notecards. Encourage participants to think about real-world scenarios and specific actions or decisions that demonstrate each type of acumen.

  3. After the 5 minutes is up, allow each team to take a turn presenting their examples to the entire group.

  4. Facilitate a brief discussion to explore why certain examples are indicative of business acumen or financial acumen.


The objective of this activity is to allow each participant to understand the distinctions between business and financial acumen. Recognizing that both skill sets play pivotal roles in the business landscape, the activity aims to highlight how each team member's grasp of these competencies can significantly impact the overall success of the organization. Ultimately, this deeper comprehension will contribute to more well-informed decision-making and a holistic approach to driving the success of the team and the broader business.


 
Continue your learning...



Is Business Acumen
About Finance




Finding the Gaps in
Your Business Acumen



Why Business Acumen
Should Matter to Everyone


 

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