One of the behavioral competencies in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) competency model is business acumen. This should come as no surprise to anyone. It’s important to know the business, be able to talk about it, and make decisions to help the business grow.
But honestly, it’s hard to develop business acumen. Oh sure, a lot of people throw business buzzwords around like “growth mindset” and “blue ocean strategy” but do they really know everything those terms mean? In today’s business world, new concepts are being developed all the time. It’s a challenge to stay on top, especially when your plate is already full of work.
Personally, I find it helpful to take inventory of the things I’m doing to stay on top of business. I love lists that remind me to step back and just get focused. So, here’s a list of suggestions that can help build business acumen.
- Read (and listen to) the right stuff. I’ve discovered an electronic newsletter called “Morning Brew” that helps me stay on top of business news. Trust me, I hate junk emails as much as the next person, but this isn’t junk. This Monday-Friday enewsletter provides a stock market overview and some commentary about the business headlines of the day. What I really like is the casual, conversational tone. Business acumen doesn’t have to be boring or stuffy.
- Develop a business book library. Laurie Ruettimann has put together an HR Book Club. You can also check it out on Facebook. To me, the success of a book club lies in the book selections. She’s doing a great job of curating book selections that stretch our minds from an HR and business perspective. The other thing I love about this book club is, if you don’t want to read the book selection, Laurie encourages you just to read something. So, if you’re ready to tackle that pile of books you have on top of your filing cabinet, this group is for you.
- Learn how your organization makes and spends money. If you haven’t bought your controller a cup of coffee lately and asked about the profit and loss statement, now might be a good opportunity to do so. Years ago, I did just that during onboarding and it was one of the best hours I’ve ever spent on my career. The good thing is there’s no rule that you’re only allowed to do it once. Consider scheduling coffee time with your controller right before budget time too.
- Join your professional association. I’m not here to tell anyone which professional organization(s) to belong to. Everyone needs to figure that out on their own. But I do believe it’s valuable to be a member of a professional organization. And let me add that I feel it’s important for individuals to get involved. Volunteer! Not only will you make friends, but you will learn from your colleagues. Part of developing business acumen includes developing a professional network.
- Step out of your regular responsibilities. The next time the boss is looking for a volunteer, consider raising your hand. Getting involved in project teams can help you 1) learn new knowledge and skills 2) build new working relationships and 3) get noticed by the organization. I know your calendar is already full. These types of extra assignments might be worth it. Both from a learning perspective and your long-term career development. See if you can squeak out a little bit of time to make it happen.
- Know your customer. When I talk about customer here, I’m not referring to employees. Do you know who the top ten customers are for your organization? Not just their names, but do you know what they do? Years ago, I had the chance to go on some customer calls with the sales team. Very valuable! If you’ve never done it, consider asking a sales manager if you can tag along. You’ll learn a few things and I’d say that the sales department will be happy you did.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that business acumen isn’t something you learn once and you’re done. Business acumen is changing all the time. Yes, it’s true that terms like profit and EBDITA haven’t changed. We have new terms like blockchain, disruption, and vlogger. If you want to be a contributor, you have to know how to really talk business.17