Business Acumen: are you known for your shrewd street smartness, commercial nouse and chutzpah to sniff out an opportunity? What are you still missing?
Business Acumen (Audio)
If someone were to assess your level of business acumen, what do you think they might say? Would they compliment your astuteness, or your shrewdness or your commercial nouse or street smartness or would they suggest you still have lots to learn? How would you measure acumen? If you would you say that “you’ve got it”, how did you “get it”?
I have seen acumen defined as a remarkable and keen insight, shrewdness, cunning, a confidence and smartness of comprehension of what really matters in business; being business savvy with the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions
Individuals with business acumen:
- Have an acute perception of the dimensions of business issues and their implications; able to sift out opportunity from obstacles
- Always have the big picture in mind, while driving the short term opportunities that will get them there
- Can make sense out of complexity and an uncertain future; are willing to embrace uncertainty
- Are mindful of “the herd”, always seeking alternatives to “the box”
- Are decisive, confident and willing to take calculated risks; they thrive on change
- Have a nose for a deal; can sniff out opportunity and usually know when to strike and when to wait
- Are usually pragmatic and more focused on the approaches and practical outcomes than the theory
People with good acumen know what works and what doesn’t. Whilst theoretical knowledge can assist in finetuning assumptions, knowing what does and doesn’t work comes from trying , failing, learning, trying again until the required outcomes have been achieved. Being savvy enough to know and focus on what gets them a few steps further and not being intimidated or distracted by the “naysayers” or what doesn’t work.
People with business acumen work smart, and are pretty good at figuring out when to work hard and they understand Dancing until it rains.
What is business acumen?
Ted Prince, CLO of CLOMedia.com says: Business acumen is not a technical skill: It is a set of behaviors that are independent from intelligence, technical skills and financial knowledge. Business acumen is a soft skill.
For me it is a mix of wisdom based on experience, vision spiced with calculated risk taking and a focus on making what matters most work best to achieve the desired outcomes.
Wayne Gretzky of ice hickey fame says that so well: “a good player will be where the puck is, but a great player will be where he expects the puck to be”.
To me the interpretation is often far more important than the statistics or the facts.
I love the German word “Fingerspitzengefuehl” which loosely translated indicates “a finesse or sensitivity of feeling in our fingertips”, implying sensitivity in situations and towards feelings and expectations of others; of understanding what drives and motivates others so as to be able to influence them to one’s own agenda.
The right “raw material”
In my executive career I recruited, developed and mentored bunch of great leaders and was blessed to have sought out some extraordinary leaders myself to guide and mentor me.
In the recruitment process I would of course rely on the pre-screening and short listing of the professional recruiters we engaged as to who was interviewed and the resultant candidates were usually all pretty good in the requisite technical skills.
At the end of the day it was their EQ more than their IQ that I focused on; their attitude more than their “pitch”, their practical measurability of their outcomes rather than their qualifications and how they were able to convince me that they could apply their skills rather than having got an MBA.
Did their track record show that they led themselves and others to measurable results and outcomes with “nouse” and passion compared to just “having the title”.
How hungry were they to “fetch” the results they wanted that would drive the results I wanted?
When I work with clients in career planning and career management these days, these are the attributes we work on.
I struggle to separate acumen from good leadership. I believe they go hand in hand. Leadership requires vision, purpose and presence, to lead others to common outcomes. Good business acumen enables the leader to “sniff out” issues and opportunities that can speed up reaching the desired outcomes or avoid being slowed down by obstacles. Presence and confidence are just as important to inspire others to follow. Is the person a follower or a leader?
How well will the individual instill confidence in those around you as in subordinates, peers, superiors, stakeholders, clients, partners, competitors?
How do we measure acumen:
- Results (finite)
- Track record (over time)
- Image (smartness, nouse, confidence)
- Attitude (Chutzpah)
Do they have a presence? Do they command respect? Have they earned trust?
Commercial acumen (nouse)
A vital part of any “mature acumen” is a solid understanding of and appreciation for “the commercials” in a business. We also speak of being a “numbers person”, that is that we can look at a “set of numbers” (like a P&L or a balance sheet or a cashflow statement / forcast) and extract the “numbers that matter” from them; to be able to broadly interpret what they are telling us. If you are seen to be a more “technical person”, then it is probably worth investing in some “financial management” exposure like Finance for non Finance people type courses.
One of my associates Peter Tibbitts (http://www.businessadviser.com/tibbitts.htm) runs such a course that is conducted in the form of a business game where two (or more) teams (companies) compete against each other in a set of constantly varying market conditions creating obstacles and opportunities. It is one of the best I’ve seen and particularly “technical” people emerge from it with a very sound and practical understanding of what levers cause what outcomes and what drives what matters in the Finances of any business or initiative. Highly recommended.
I’ve always said that “what you measure is what you get” and in my blog KPI’s suggest that, like setting a goal, is an important start to any initiative, and more specifically how you will measure your having achieved or exceeded them. That will always start with your knowledge and understanding of the overall KPI’s that drive the business you are active in, both as an employer or employee.
Is acumen inborn or grown?
Surely we aren’t born with business acumen? Given it is largely based on experience and a track record of results and successes and failures, would suggest that it is grown, right?
I do believe that in the main to be true; however I also believe that a prerequisite for good business acumen is a sharp and inquiring mind – always curious, always exploring, and always wondering. Which I believe then also makes it part of one’s attitude.
Another aspect I believe to be grown, is that whilst a healthy ego drives a healthy competitive attitude, is to know how to manage one’s ego, so that it can’t get in the way of success. I have learned that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and that good acumen will embrace doubt by wondering who might have already done something similar and how they might have gone about that; not being afraid to ask for their insights and then filtering for relevant information for their initiative.
Another by product of acumen I believe needs to be grown is good communication and influencing skills. Rarely can successful outcomes be achieved on one’s own today, right? It is usually a team effort, with solid project management attributes driving all stakeholders to the outcomes that satisfy all the agendas.
So where does this now leave you in terms of how you see your level of business acumen?
Is this something that matters to you, do you think?
Can you see the value in it?
How do you think you are doing?
- Are you satisfied that you have “got it”?
- Do you think you have some more work to do?
If you are in the former, why not consider how you can assist others around you and those that look up to you in growing theirs?
If in the latter, why not engage the services of a professional coach to help you grow your awareness of what matters in terms of business acumen, help establish where you are, what can be developed and map out a plan towards strengthening this business acumen muscle so it becomes first competitively able and then serves to differentiate you from the “herd”? That if someone were to assess your level of business acumen, they might say: oh yes, he or she has certainly “got it”!
What if you could?