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Creating Lasting Change Through Business Acumen: Q&A with Ben Cook

Change is an inevitable part of business, there's no way around it, only through it. In this Q&A with Ben Cook, President of Acumen Learning, we explore how the business landscape has evolved and what that means for developing the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in today's world. From navigating digital disruption to adapting to shifting consumer expectations, this Q&A offers valuable insights and practical tips to help you embrace change and stay ahead of the curve. Let's dive right in!


Ben, in your video, Changing with Business Acumen, you obviously mention the importance of business acumen in change management. Could you elaborate on how having good business acumen can help organizations determine what should change and why it's beneficial for them in the long term?

Absolutely. Business acumen plays a crucial role in change management. When you have a strong understanding of the broader business landscape, including market dynamics, the competitive landscape, customer expectations, your supply chain nuances, and also things like your regulatory realities, you can better identify what aspects within your organization need to evolve. Business acumen allows you to see the bigger picture, distinguishing between what should remain the same for competitiveness and what needs to change for the organization's long-term viability and success.


So...there is some real benefit to understanding how to communicate the compelling reason for change. How does business acumen help leaders effectively communicate the "why" behind a change initiative?

Excellent question. Business acumen provides the language of business and financials, which is vital when communicating the reasons for change. When leaders can explain not just what needs to change, but also why it's necessary in terms of its impact on innovation, customer perception, and your market competitiveness, it is much easier to get the team’s buy-in to what you are changing and can become more bought-into the solution. Understanding the financial implications and consequences of not changing is also essential to convey the urgency and importance of the transformation.


So then how does business acumen help individuals in different roles within an organization understand their role in the change and align with it?

Yeah, this is a vital part of being a leader… not only making good decisions but also ensuring they understand the human element involved in the changes that are needed. Business acumen enables individuals to see how their specific roles fit into the broader organizational change. People are all looking for meaning in their roles. Whether you're in IT, operations, supply chain, HR, or any other department, having a solid understanding of business acumen allows you to grasp the context of your responsibilities within the larger direction the company is moving and the ‘why’ the company is doing it and how my part is vital in its success. It helps employees connect the dots between their daily tasks and the organization's overall transformation which adds an important layer of ‘why I should care and why I should support.’


Ben, can you provide examples of how leaders can use business acumen to inspire and communicate change both upwards, downwards, and across their organization?

Certainly. Business acumen provides the language needed to inspire and communicate change effectively. When communicating upwards to executives, using strategic business and financial language can help gain the support and resources from the senior leaders. When speaking to employees, simplifying the message to make it relevant, relatable, and actionable is key. And when communicating with peers, it's about showing how your change aligns with their specific goals that might be slightly different than yours. Business acumen helps convey the financial & strategic benefits of the change and each person's role in it, making the change process more efficient and successful.


Ben,"Grow or Die" is a saying that I think most of us have heard over the years. Harvard Business Review published an article back in 2018 and, in my opinion, I think it's more relevant today than ever. How does business acumen contribute to speeding up change management, and why is this acceleration important?

Accelerating change is vital in today's fast-paced business environment. Technology and global nature of markets means business cycles move so much faster than they have before. Moves in the market happen so much faster and require that same urgency and immediacy from the market participants. Business acumen helps by enabling individuals to find the "why" behind change, identify opportunities, assess risks, secure buy-in from key stakeholders, and make well-informed decisions quickly. In a world where agility and responsiveness are critical, business acumen provides the tools to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances and seize opportunities before competitors do.


Ben, the article suggests that business acumen helps individuals gain a bigger picture perspective on how changes impact their organization. Can you explain how business acumen allows employees to see the ecosystem that their businesses participate in and make better decisions during times of change?

Certainly. Business acumen helps employees step back and see the larger industry ecosystems they are involved in. It allows them to understand how different components of the business’ value chains interact and how changes in one area can ripple through the entire ecosystem. This broader perspective equips employees to make informed decisions during times of change because they can anticipate how their actions and decisions will affect other parts of the organization and thus the industry, their customers, and even their shareholders.


Ben, the article mentions cost-cutting strategies but also warns about the risks of cutting too deeply. Can you share insights on how business acumen can help leaders make informed decisions when it comes to cost-cutting without jeopardizing their core business?

Absolutely. Business acumen allows leaders to understand the core of their company's revenue generation. It helps identify which costs are ancillary to the core business and can be trimmed without undermining essential functions, impacting quality, or slowing down the process of innovation. After all, you can’t cut your way to prosperity. You need to be aware of the inefficiencies and duplication of effort and then involve top talent in brainstorming innovative ideas to drive efficiency improvements. In doing this, leaders can then make more informed, more strategically-aware decisions about cost-cutting that protect the core business while ensuring its long-term sustainability.


Ben, the article emphasizes the importance of helping employees understand costs and the company's direction, especially during challenging times like recessions. How can organizations effectively help their teams develop business acumen, and why is this crucial?

Developing business acumen among teams is essential during challenging times. Organizations can achieve this by providing training and education on financial literacy, cost levers, and the company's strategic goals. When employees understand the financial aspects of the business and the reasons behind decisions, they are more likely to see cost-cutting measures as strategic choices rather than knee-jerk reactions. This understanding fosters a sense of alignment and engagement, making the organization more resilient during difficult periods.


Ben, it's clear that developing business acumen is crucial for navigating change effectively. Can you also shed some light on how Acumen Learning, your organization, can specifically help team members, regardless of their roles, whether they're executives, in HR, sales, managers, or finance professionals, to better align with the goals of their company and excel in change management?

Certainly, I'd be happy to. Acumen Learning specializes in equipping professionals from various backgrounds and roles with the essential skills of business acumen. Our tailored training programs are designed to empower individuals at all levels of an organization. Whether you're an executive, an up-and-coming manager, or a finance professional, our training can help you understand the financial aspects of your business, your industry, your customers & competitors, and the strategic goals of your company in light of the bigger picture.


Now that you've explored the impact of change within a business, let's do a learning activity you can do with your team:

Exercise 1: Change Impact Simulation
  1. Introduce a simple scenario, like changing a key process or implementing new technology. Split up into groups, each group will represent a different department affected by this change.

  2. Ask each group to discuss and predict how the change might affect their assigned department. Consider how it could influence daily tasks, teamwork, and relationships with other departments.

  3. Have the groups share their ideas with the whole team. Discuss the potential challenges and opportunities presented by the change.

This exercise will help you understand how changes in one part of the company have a domino effect on the entire business. By seeing how alterations impact different departments, you'll learn the importance of considering the broader impact of changes and how interconnected the various aspects of your organization are. This awareness can guide smarter decision-making when implementing changes, fostering a more comprehensive and effective approach to managing transitions within your company.


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