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business acumen

Seeing the Big Picture

Introduction

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The only real security that a person will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.

—Henry Ford

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Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

—Albert Einstein

 

Have you ever found yourself in one of these situations? You’re talking with a senior leader of your company and wish you could say something really insightful to show your knowledge of the business, but your brain goes numb and you can’t come up with anything meaningful.

 

You’re attending a meeting with managers or financial types and as they start reviewing financial statements, you get lost. You hope no one discovers that the smile on your face or the nod of your head hides the gap in your knowledge. You can’t see what the numbers have to do with what you have to get done today or this week.

 

Your CEO wants everyone to work harder to meet the company’s overall financial objectives. Your manager asks for ideas from the team, but you’re struggling to see how improving your job performance will impact the company’s revenue or stock price.

 

You’ve got a great idea for a weekend business that you and a friend or your spouse could start up to bring in some extra money, but you don’t know how much money you would need to get started or how to handle financial matters once you do. You just don’t want to be like all those other start-ups that flop.

 

If you’ve experienced moments like these, you certainly are not alone. In fact, you’re a member of a fairly large group—businesspeople who struggle to understand how the moving parts of a company work together to make it successful and how financial metrics like profit margin, cash flow, and stock price reflect how well each of those moving parts is doing its job.

 

The solution to your confusion is developing your business acumen, your ability to see the big picture.

 

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What Business Acumen Can Do for You

 

Years ago a colleague of mine was consulting with a group of senior NASA managers at Cape Canaveral. He tried to explain, in simple terms, an organizational change strategy. The managers seemed confused. In an effort to clarify, he said, “Please don’t make this more complicated than it is. It’s not rocket science.” To which they sincerely answered, “We wish it were. We’d understand it better!”

 

Many people, even those with jobs that others think of as incredibly complex, view their business much like rocket science: a lot of complexity, hard-to-understand data and formulas, communications in a language that barely resembles English. Yet most of them wish they could more clearly understand the business of their business and how to help their companies perform better. What they are wishing for is business acumen.

 

Business acumen is keen, fundamental, street-smart insight into how your business operates and how it makes money and sustains profitable growth, now and in the future.

 

In 2002, after ten years as an executive with FranklinCovey, consulting with and teaching for dozens of organizational clients, I founded my own training and consulting firm, Acumen Learning. We created and began delivering the Building Business Acumen. seminar. Since that time we have expanded and deepened the initial course. Our focus became the practical application of business acumen to help people—at all levels, in any company, in any industry—become more effective in their current jobs and more successful in their future careers.

 

After working with more than one hundred thousand participants in more than thirty countries, including many clients in the Fortune 500 and nineteen of the Fortune 50, the primary lesson we’ve learned is that businesspeople want to become more effective and valuable, to secure their seat at the table and influence decisions, to impact company performance. They want to use their full potential to help their business make money and sustain profitable growth.

 

They want these things for two reasons. First, we all instinctively seek out greater engagement—a way to feel that the work we do is worthwhile and makes a difference. Second, they understand something crucial. If you want to be in a better position—a job you like more with better pay, better long-term opportunities, and greater security, for example—you need to understand the key drivers of business and use that knowledge to make good things happen.

 

To do that, you need the ability to

  1. See the “big picture” of your organization—how the key drivers of your business relate to each other, work together to produce profitable growth, and relate to the job you do each day

  2. Understand important company communications and data, including financial statements

  3. Use your knowledge to make good decisions

  4. Understand how your actions and decisions impact key company measures and the objectives of your company’s leadership

  5. Effectively communicate your ideas to other employees, managers, and executives

 

For some of you, this list might resonate immediately. For others, it might raise an important question. Why should you care? Isn’t making these connections the responsibility of the executives, the senior leadership, or maybe your boss? Not if you want to be doing something different and better in your career three years from now.

 

If, through your questions, ideas, comments, analysis, proposals, and performance, you exhibit business acumen, you will be seen as a more valuable contributor. You will demonstrate your worth to the company, and other people will notice.

 

And that, in a nutshell, is the path to success in almost any career.