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Business Acumen

Kevin Cope on Business Acumen

In order for HR people to win a seat at the table where business decisions are made, they must demonstrate business acumen – their understanding of how the whole organisation works and succeeds in its market or community.

One expert in developing commercial capability, Kevin Cope, lists these five key capabilities in his book ‘Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to build your Credibility, Career and Company’

  1. See the ‘big picture’ – how the key drivers of the business relate to each other, work together to produce profitable growth, and relate to the job the individual does.
  2. Understand important company communications and data, including financial statements.
  3. Use individual knowledge to make good decisions.
  4. Understand how individuals’ actions and decisions affect key company measures and the objectives of the organisation’s leadership.
  5. Effectively communicate ideas to other employees, managers and executives.

Applying Business Acumen to Interactions

The next challenge is to relate this to the people agenda – strategically, and in day-to-day interactions:

Business model diagram

There are many aspects of business acumen to explore in your organisation.  Be curious, look for facts rather than opinions, and learn the language.  Find a mentor in the finance function, and understand what performance means in your organisation – financial and otherwise.

One vital advantage for HR professionals of building their business acumen is the ability to build a business case for HR initiatives.

Our Success Model provides a useful way of thinking about this.

The Business Planning Process and Cycle

Another vital element is to ensure that you understand the business planning process and cycle.  Every organisation has routines and rhythms, with critical points where decisions are made.  Timing is important.  Ensuring that you are involved early in a decision-making or planning process enables you to make your contribution early, and thus influence more successfully.

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