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Navigating Change with Business Acumen



Navigating changes in an organization is a bit undertaking... and can be very scary...


But there’s one skill that is absolutely vital in the success of navigating change, business acumen.


When changes must be made, for instance, during something like a pandemic – everyone scrambles to try to make what they believe are the right decisions to position themselves in the right place, with the best chance to execute their strategy. During these times, we often think that the senior executives are the ones who have to have all of the answers. However, that mindset is something that is very challenging in the global economy that we’re in today. In big organizations, it would be impossible for the senior leaders to be involved in all of the big decision making. It’s one thing for a small business, with maybe five people that come in everyday to talk about a change that is coming, and how they are going to adapt to it. How they’ll take advantage of the opportunity, or how they can mitigate potential challenges. But in larger organizations, there are too many moving parts, too many decisions to be made, and too much to do.


During the pandemic, for example, many organizations experienced a tremendous amount of change to the way they typically do business, and were forced to make significant shifts very quickly. This is especially true for companies such as Amazon. Why? Well, as the pandemic began, department stores, grocery stores, and well...pretty much everything shut down. All of the sudden, we didn’t have or had limited access to basic goods.


So, where do we go? Online, of course! Suddenly everyone was online trying to access all of these items, making the demand for Amazon skyrocket. At the same time, Amazon was dealing with supply chain issues as manufacturing plants shut down for the pandemic and they didn't have the staff to keep up. So, what did they do? They had to hire 175,000 employees, and get them on-boarded, ready to make good decisions that are best for the organization. This is where business acumen comes into play.


Business acumen is making sure that all employees understand how your company makes money and how decisions are made around that money-making process. But most importantly, it will allow employees to understand the role they play in this process, and the impact their position has. This knowledge enables all individuals to make decisions that are needed to adapt during major changes you may face.


But, not every change the company will experience will be major, some may be minor. The better an employee understands how the company makes money, and has that good business acumen skill – the better equipped they are to adapt to the changes within their organization. It will also allow them to anticipate changes, and will give them the ability to predict how changes within the economy will impact their business - which gives them the opportunity to come up with plans to prepare for these changes.


If something happens that they aren’t able to anticipate, like...oh...I don't know...a pandemic, business acumen will at least help team members determine how to adapt. They’ll have a better understanding of what will happen if they “pull” different “levers” within an organization. If that isn’t knowledge they have in advance, employees may just start pulling random levers hoping something will work.


As individuals, the more we understand about changes, the better we can position ourselves, and our skills to maximize the positive impact on our organization. Employees are functionally brilliant. They know their roles very well, and understand how they fit within an organization – but typically, they are very focused on their particular area. Very rarely do they take a step back and look at the bigger picture. For individuals, this is where business acumen can make a huge impact. Business acumen will allow team members to take a step back, and get that bigger picture perspective. Now, they can see the eco-system of their business, how things interact, and are better able to make decisions when these changes come.


Back to Amazon, I don’t think that Jeff Bezos himself is the one who made all of the changes at Amazon during the pandemic. Instead, it was the individuals at Amazon that took all of these new employees, and helped them to understand the organization. Introduced them to Amazon’s systems, processes, and then trained them to successfully execute their strategy. So, business acumen is not only fundamental for a business, but also for individuals.


Once you have basic business acumen, how can you continue to grow, develop, and expand that knowledge? Well, a good step is to listen to the things that are going on around you. Listen to company earnings calls, and communication that is happening around the organization. Have conversations with colleagues both in your department and in other departments that you work with. Figure out what those other functions that you work with on a regular basis are focused on. Then, all of the sudden, you begin to move from a functional expert, to a business expert, and you can really help an organization to make these decisions.


That’s what change is all about – getting the right people together, to make the right decisions, and then placing them in the right place, at the right time.


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