Business Acumen

At the May 2015 Networking with a Purpose event at Cisco, we talked about “Business and Financial Acumen: Critical Skills for the Executive Track“, and why this is so important for success in a corporate career.

Do you know whether your company’s annual revenue has increased or decreased over the past year? How about profits? How does that affect you, and why does it matter?

What is the missing 33%?

In her 2013 TED Talk, Susan Colantuono talked about “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get“.

Women are often coached on unlocking their personal greatness (confidence, skills, and talent), and tapping into the greatness in others (working effectively with a team).

Both of those are important, but there is a third factor that is even more critical when it comes to reaching top leadership positions: achieving and sustaining extraordinary business outcomes that are aligned to your organization’s strategic and financial goals.

Executive Criteria

When it comes to identifying high-potential leaders and executives, the ability to achieve top business outcomes (business acumen) is rated twice as heavily as personal or team leadership skills.

Do you work at a company that is growing or shrinking?

2014 Revenue Compare

At companies where revenue and profit are growing healthily, what is the environment usually like? Energy is high, the company is investing, there are plenty of opportunities for career growth, the stock is doing well, and bonuses are usually good. Often, the company’s biggest goal is to continue growing revenue.

Conversely, when revenue and earnings are in a decline – companies are often focused on cutting costs, and improving efficiency through layoffs or restructuring. In this situation, the company’s priority tends to be keeping costs as low as possible, while attempting to stem the revenue decline.

How do you contribute to your organization’s business goals?

Revenue - Cost = Profit

If you work at a for-profit corporation, a good way to link your results back to the company’s goals is to look at how your work helps the company increase revenue, or reduce costs.

Do you work in Quality Assurance? QA helps increase revenue by improving customer satisfaction and supporting sales; and reduces costs associated with customer complaints or product defects.

How about support functions? An HR leader in our discussion said she helps make the company’s sales force more productive – enabling them to bring in more revenue, more quickly.

In addition to revenue and cost, there are several other ways you can contribute to business results: controlling risk, managing assets, improving the cost of capital, and so on.

As you aim for your next promotion or a new, bigger job – be prepared to clearly describe the business results you’ve achieved.

Try this exercise: partner up with a trusted friend, mentor, or career coach. Describe the business results you’ve achieved. Be clear about how your results impact revenue, cost, or your organization’s other financial goals.

Ask your partner to tell you what they remember from your description. Is that the impression you want to make? Tweak your “achievements story” until you can tell it crisply and naturally.

Want a one-page version of this article to keep as a handy reference? Here’s a link to the Business Acumen session handout.

Don’t miss the next discussion about developing your business acumen, and other ways to grow your career. Sign up to be notified about future events.

How does your work contribute to your organization’s business goals? Share your story in the comments below.

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