In a company, a manager seen as having general business acumen is one who consistently exercises sound judgment — the results of his decisions are most often favorable. Those he works with would say he has a quick mind that can assimilate information from many different sources and come up with sound strategic alternatives. He also has the quality of insight — being able to envision what the company should do now to bring about a more profitable, successful future.
Breadth of Understanding
Within the management ranks, a company has experts in finance, accounting, marketing, production and information technology. But, even with this specialization, sound decision making requires the ability to see how the decisions you make affect other departments within the organization, to see each manager’s success as depending on the coordinated efforts of every other one. Great quarterbacks are said to have an unusual ability to “see the whole field.” In business, individuals with acumen have this quality as well.
General business acumen involves the ability to effectively communicate with all functional areas in the organization. Even if a marketing manager has never studied finance, she knows how to speak the language of finance well enough to convey the logic behind her budgetary requests so finance people can understand them and hopefully approve them. Individuals with acumen are always looking ahead, trying to gain insight into what opportunities will be coming and what competitive threats are likely to emerge. Acumen means having the ability to devise strategies to remain one step ahead of competitors, a quality sometimes called vision.
Managers who demonstrate strong general acumen have the opportunity to rise up through the ranks, sometimes all the way to CEO. Sound judgment is particularly critical for a CEO because her decisions affect everyone else in the organization. Someone who is seen as a “generalist” is often asked to take on high visibility roles such as leading a task force composed of managers from various departments that will deliver a report to the CEO or Board of Directors. An entrepreneur starting a company absolutely has to have the ability to manage all the functional areas of a business, because many times in the beginning he is on his own without other managers to support him. Entrepreneurs who are generalists with strong business acumen have an advantage over those with experience confined to a narrow business specialty.
One way a manager can develop acumen is to increase her knowledge base about how the company operates. Learning how to be a better listener can make this process easier. Take the time to cultivate relationships with individuals in other departments and learn more about their challenges and concerns. Ask to be copied on research reports developed by the various departments in the organization. An assistant controller could read reports about competitors’ activities generated by the marketing division. She should try to learn everything she can about the company’s products and operations. This knowledge will help her sharpen her decision making when she is asked to contribute to discussions about which products or marketing strategies should be funded. The keen insights she contributes will be noticed by those above her and improve her chance of being considered for promotions.