Years ago, I worked as the receptionist in the main hall of administration for my company’s headquarters. One of my tasks was to greet visitors and give tours of the campus. Because of this, I had to know the history of the property and all the buildings, as well as how the staff and students used them. And this turned out to be the best training ground for my next job in that company, which was supporting the security and safety department.
That first position taught me the ins and outs of the whole campus. It helped me get to know people and their roles in almost every department. And as a result, I knew who to ask for help if and when I needed it. When I landed the new position, I already had a lot of the training and information I needed, along with an established campus-wide network.
I always tell assistants that the administrative role is a great way to learn the ins and outs of any company. We are exposed to people, projects, information, and resources from so many different areas that it provides us with a unique opportunity – and responsibility – to be better connectors and facilitators on the projects we support.
One of the best ways you can add value to your company is to understand every aspect of how the business is run, and how all these things tie together. In other words, you need to develop your business acumen.
What is Business Acumen?
The official definition of business acumen, according to Wikipedia, is “keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a ‘business situation’ (risks and opportunities) in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome.”
In other words, business acumen means knowing and understanding how your organization is run at every level so that you can make informed decisions that benefit your company.
Business acumen is also understanding:
- How a business operates
- How a company makes money
- Your role in that process
- The drivers that move your company forward, and what you can do to impact the bottom line
Good business acumen helps you:
- Make better judgments and quicker decisions
- Think more innovatively about challenges
- Find solutions
- Be more confident
- Add value to discussions and office interactions
- Be an active and informed participant
- Know what you’re talking about
- Increase your capacity for understanding and contributing to your company’s success
- Have a greater sense of purpose
- Get more excited about your job
- Stay relevant in your profession and company
- Become a leader in your organization
How to Develop Your Business Acumen
Have you ever overheard a conversation that went completely over your head? Do you regularly hear terms that you don’t understand? Does scanning your executive’s email often feel like you’re attempting to read a different language?
As admins, our desks tend to be the unofficial “water coolers” of the office. People from all different roles and levels regularly gather around us – which puts us in a prime position to learn a lot about the company!
Think about some recent conversations you’ve overheard. What is one thing (or maybe more) you heard discussed that you didn’t understand? Who could help you figure it out? What types of books, publications, magazines, or research would you have to use to learn it? What’s keeping you from asking those questions or doing the research to figure it out?
Developing your business acumen takes time and concentrated effort. It’s not something you’ll learn by osmosis, nor is it something that can be done in an afternoon. In fact, you’ll never be completely done, because as long as your organization grows and changes, so will your business acumen!
There are plenty of ways to develop your business acumen naturally over time. One of my best suggestions is to read! Read everything you get your hands on – from the trade magazines that come across your desk to HR memos to industry blogs. Two of my favorite books about business acumen are What the CEO Wants You to Know by Ram Charan and The Accounting Game by Orloff and Mullis.
Joining professional associations, participating in company projects or committees, and enrolling in continuing education courses are also fantastic ways to develop and expand your business acumen!
Developing Your Plan of Action
For the busy admin, adding one more to-do to an ever-growing list can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s so important to make developing your business acumen a habit rather than a task.
Try to spend 5-10 minutes each day researching a specific topic that you want to learn more about. Download relevant apps so you can quickly scan social media channels, news sites, and association resources. Create a digital notebook in OneNote or Evernote that you can quickly save links and research for reference. This way, it’s a part of your daily routine and not another to-do on your list.
Your Plan of Action:
- Identify one business topic or concept that you want to better understand.
- Spend 5-10 minutes researching it (online, asking someone, reading a book).
- Document what you learn in your digital notebook or journal.
- Do this daily until you feel like you have a better grasp of it.
- Pick another topic and repeat this cycle.
Business acumen isn’t just about understanding the history of your company. It’s knowing how all the pieces work together, and who to go to when you need help or additional resources. It’s knowing how you impact the day-to-day operations of your company. It’s having a deeper understanding of what makes a business run, observing trends, and learning how to be more strategic. In short, it’s being smarter about business. It’s a key ingredient for increasing your value and contributing to the success of your company!
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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures.