I’m starting to see an increasing number of articles about older workers and today’s job market. And they’re not positive. Either older workers are being pushed out of their jobs or they’re reluctant to return to work because they’re in a high-risk virus category. Either way, older workers need to start thinking about their careers.
Regular readers of Unretirement Project know I’m a human resources professional. For the next few weeks, I want to spend some time talking specifically about careers. If you’re one of those people trying to figure out what your next career move might look like, I hope you’ll find these articles helpful.
Today, let’s focus on one of the biggest competencies that organizations expect from employees – 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 current, 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. Today’s business books are refreshingly transparent. I have nothing against the classics like “First, Break All the Rules” and “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. But consider checking out “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” and “The Science of Self-Discipline”. You don’t have to buy all of these books. Check them out of the library. Just listen to many different business voices.
- 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 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 (maybe via Zoom) 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. Do you know who the top ten customers are for your organization? Not just their names, but do you know what they do? Why do they do business with your organization? 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. And there’s never been a more perfect time to start learning.