Sunday, August 10, 2008

Do you have plenty of Busines Acumen?

One of the skills we need to have in our pocket is business acumen. Do you know what is expected? Do you know what the business rules are?

As leaders we need to have a good understanding of business, so we can make the right choices with our team.

Below are some ideas how to improve your business acumen.

Read periodicals. These publications will help you for what you need to know about business in general:

  • Wall Street Journal,
  • Business Week,
  • Fortune,
  • Barron's, and
  • Harvard Business Review.

Look to see any items in each issue that relate to your business. Then look to find any parallels, trends that affect business now, emerging trends that may have a future impact, and general business savvy about how business works.

Study some business books. Go to any business book store and pick a couple of books on general business principles, one with a financial slant, one with a marketing slant and one about customer service.

Read them through and look for their themes that you can apply.

Watch the right sources. Watch the business channels that carry business news and information full time. They have interviews with business leaders, reviews of industries by business experts, as well as general reviews of companies.

Figure out the rules of the game. Reduce your understanding of how business operates to personal rules of thumb or insights. Write them down in your own words. Use these rules of thumb to analyze a business that you know something about. Then pick two businesses that have pulled off clever strategies—one related to yours and one not. Study what they did; talk to people who know what happened and see what you can learn.

Now apply these rules to your business

Need to know more about your business? Study your annual report and various financial reports. If you don’t know how, the major investment firms have basic documents explaining how to read financial documents. After you’ve done this, consult a a senior person in the company you know and ask him or her what he or she looks at and why. How does your team have an affect?

Broaden your knowledge within the company. Volunteer for task forces that include people outside your area of expertise. Work on some Total Quality Management, Process Re-Engineering, Six Sigma, or ISO projects that cross functional or business unit boundaries to learn more about the business.

Get close to customers. Customer service is the best place to learn about the business. Arrange a meeting with a counterpart in customer service. Have him or her explain the function to you. If you can, listen in to customer service calls or even better handle a couple yourself.

Learn to think as an expert in your business area. Take problems to inside experts or external consultants and ask them, what are the keys they look for; observe what they consider significant and not significant. List your data into categories so you can remember it. Devise five key areas or questions you can consider each time a business issue comes up.

Obviously this is not an easy set of learnings to accumulate. So set yourself a goal to tackle one each month and plan to review your progress in six months and see how well you've done. Do you have the persistence? I'm sure when you stick with this strategy to improve your knowledge you'll start to manage your team in line with the business for great results!

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