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Your four step plan to successfully improving your business acumen

Research shows that the most successful HR Professionals are able to link HR practices and policies to the needs of the business, communicating them in a way that business managers are able to understand and relate to their teams and needs. This ability to talk the language of the business and match their HR skills and knowledge to business needs builds their credibility which enables them to influence the way people are managed as well as implement HR strategies which are aligned with organisational objectives.

The last blog on business acumen outlined what high performing HR Professionals do and how they think.

If you want to improve your business acumen we have a four step development plan and outlined below are just a few of our suggestions as to what you can do:

1. Understanding your organisation

HR’s value in any organisation is determined by its alignment with its organisation’s strategy. This can mean:

  • Deepening your understanding of how your organisation operates. Develop, update and regularly review some personal ‘rules of the game’ that provide clarity and sufficient knowledge regarding developments in your organisation, sector, competitors and the wider marketplace. This will identify any development needs. It may include:
    • What are the main drivers for marketing our products and services?
    • How do we satisfy our customer needs better than our rivals?
    • Who are our competitors?
    • How do they compete against us?”
  • Expanding your internal network. Keep track of how your business is changing. Who are the new influential people joining your organisation? How can you meet up with key decision makers and stakeholders? Who can help you better understand your organisation and its strategy?
  • Get involved in project work. Volunteer to work on non-HR projects which are cross-functional. How can you network more broadly? How can you experience firsthand other parts of your organisation? How can you deepen your understanding of how things work? How can you increase your influence on HR solutions?
  • Think like an expert. Do you want to become considered as an expert by your HR Colleagues? If so, take the initiative to test yourself. Using your Business Acumen, present to your boss and your senior business leaders the People and HR implications of an emerging / potential organisational issue and invite their feedback.
  • Look outside your organisation. Internal ‘best-practices’ are not necessarily the best possible! Do you seek opportunities to learn from and be stimulated by HR colleagues’ challenges from different sectors and geographies? Including; How do they differ? How are they similar? What are they doing? Don’t reinvent the wheel!

2. Understanding the main organisational change drivers and strategy

By understanding your organisation’s mission, vision and strategy provides you with the opportunity to anticipate potential strategic implications for its people and HR. Strategies are messy and often fluid but it is important to know the mission, vision and strategic goals.

  • Using your organisational strategy complete a ‘People / HR SWOT analysis.’ Match this with your existing HR strategy. Present any gaps, opportunities and / or threats you identify to your boss and your leadership team.
  • Explore your main organisational and sector change drivers, especially their impacts on your people: Environmental (e.g. globalisation, demographic changes, technological advances); Business (e.g. globalisation, profitably, reduced competitive advantages, increased complexity and greater flexibility); Competitors (e.g. new competitors, new technology, first to market)
  • Being future focused and prepared with a range of options is a clear indicator of someone who is excellent at Business Acumen. Find out what strategy model your organisation uses and become familiar with how it is applied and cascaded.
    • What is your organisation’s strategic focus? A) Cost reduction – ‘lean and mean’, continuous improvement, driven by speed and cost; B) Quality Enhancement – relationship with customers and driven by repeat business; C) Innovation – inventive, cutting edge of design / technology, driven by creating markets
    • Conduct some research to identify high profile organisations which adopt these strategies and explore what they do, especially differences between your organisation and theirs, to maintain their competitive advantage.

3. Speaking the language of the business

To be credible with your leadership team as well as being able to understand the people implications of organisational decisions it is essential you spend time in the organisation, talking to them about their issues. It is important your contribution is based on organisational issues which you really understand otherwise you will lose your credibility.

  • Make sure you know when the important business meetings are happening and invite yourself if you are not already invited
  • Develop a questioning style which is based on asking open and probing questions. Here are a few suggestions: What concerns do you have about …?” Have you any issues with ….? Are there any problems with ….? How dissatisfied are you with …? Then ask follow up questions like: Why is that? How? What is the impact of …? How will that affect …?
  • Spend time walking the ‘shop floor’ and talking to a good cross section of your managers and your employees to find out what they do, their issues and challenges
  • Language is more than just words! It is essential that your contribution is based on organisational issues which you really understand – otherwise you lose your credibility. It is important to be an active listener and if you don’t understand something then ask.

4. Taking risks – think the unthinkable

Research shows that senior management value HR when they provide new and fresh perspectives to organisational issues, especially when they constructively challenge existing thinking and practices.

  • Take the risk challenge! Leaders actively calculating the upside and downside of opportunities must ask “What if…” questions even though they may create risks.
  • Even when things are going well, challenge your boss to try new approaches beyond the traditional practices by asking “What if we tackled things in a different way?”

To maintain and develop your Business Acumen excellence, have you considered external networking or public speaking events, HR as well as business events? Professional recognition improves your credibility and career while maintaining your focus on developing your competency.

To find out how CourageousHR can support the development of your HR Function please email [email protected] to arrange a call to discuss your specific development needs.