Business Acumen – who needs it?

Business Acumen – who needs it?  Well apparently NZ Inc. does according to research presented by Cynthia Johnson of Muritai Consulting at a recent HRINZ event.

According to a survey carried out by NZ Trade & Enterprise, our key trading partners, such as China, Korea, the US, UK and Australia see NZ businesses as being high in human value but low in business acumen i.e. we are seen to be ‘nice’ but not that business savvy – the ‘bach & boat’ syndrome?

Cynthia became interested in trying to identify what actually constitutes business acumen when she was working at Fonterra and they also became interested in looking for an agreed definition which might help them to recruit, select and develop an attribute which would seem to be pretty important in a global business context.

Cynthia proposed Ram Charan’s definition as a starting point: “the ability to position the organisation to make money”.  After interviewing 200 senior NZ managers, it is suggested that they view business acumen as consisting of 3 main constructs:

  • Factor 1:       Understanding how the organisation works to make money
  • Factor 2:       People focus – attention to the people side of the business,  internal & external
  • Factor 3:       Energy – the passion, drive & optimism of people with business acumen

As I was listening to the presentation, I began to recognise the attributes of one of my clients.  The female MD has taken the business in 5 years from a failing situation to a year on year 36% increase in sales and profit, all in a market where her competitors are falling by the wayside.  The really interesting question for me is:  how much of this has she learned to do through experience or development and how much is intuitive. She just seems to ‘know’ when something is not right from a financial perspective and has an incredible ‘nose’ for opportunities that others just don’t pick up on and still operates on a gut feel often with her people.

So……… can Business Acumen be developed?  This question was raised at the session and hotly debated but without any definitive answer – what do you think?

If you are interested in a summary in a 1 page summary of the findings, please follow this link.  http://www.muritai21.com/pdfs/Business-Acumen-Phase-1-Results.pdf

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