AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO DEVELOPING BUSINESS ACUMEN
Developing Business Acumen Skills
Some argue whether business acumen can be taught or if it is something one inherently possesses. Either way, it is critical for organizations to implement an integrated strategy for developing sales leaders' and representatives' business acumen to meet the evolving role changes and marketplace demands. The integrated strategy must:
- Impart the importance of effective business planning.
- Create a culture for ongoing coaching and feedback.
- Involve defining critical business planning and review processes.
- Communicate the importance and business case for demonstrating business acumen.
- Develop business acumen skills and related competencies such as decision making, strategic thinking, problem solving, tactical planning, resource allocation, and team collaboration skills.
- Involve the learning and development function.
- Include individual and group skill assessments to identify strengths and close gaps.
Business Acumen Requires a Blended Approach
Like other leadership development initiatives, no one learning activity provides the "quick answer." Organizations must leverage different learning methods and on-the-job experiences, coupled with ongoing coaching and feedback to improve skill development. Therefore, programs and tools must:
- Turn generalities such as "business acumen" or "strategic thinking" into tangible behaviors and practices for sales professional to execute.
- Maximize participants' time together during on-site sessions for experiential, real-world learning, and feedback.
- Encourage best practice sharing.
- Leverage the collective learning and experience of participants.
- Include pre-, during, and post-program assessment.
When the commitment is made to take sales professionals out of the field for a training workshop, the program needs to leverage adult learning principles and include interactive exercises. Additionally, an effective program would ensure the organization's business planning process is understood and corporate objectives are reinforced. In this type of program it is important to encourage participants to learn from each other and solve actual work-related challenges. To develop business acumen, exercises are designed to:
- Understand the strategic financial/business implications of their operational decisions.
- Analyze sales performance, competitive, and financial data in order to identify and prioritize key performance drivers in their region/district.
- Create business plans to maximize results in their region/district based on their analyses.
- Explore their customers' business drivers and identify value-added solutions.
- Allocate resources and leverage strengths to ensure these plans have maximum impact on business growth.
- Develop skills to actively coach others on business planning and execution.
Additionally, the organization needs to design sustainability tools that support the sales representative or manager with their ability to actually perform specific tasks. It is important to include a variety of learning and coaching tools, such as:
- Ongoing distance learning webinars that reinforce critical concepts and provide skill development.
- Performance toolkits that bring all the required content, process models, templates, and skills development together.
- "Leader-led Learning Modules" that sales leaders can use to help their teams practice, apply, and continuously improve process and skill mastery over time. Short, work-related 30 minute to one-hour workshops that are self-directed for a manager to reinforce a concept or skill practice (e.g., marketplace analysis). Additionally, they can reduce the dependency on trained facilitators and limit time out of the field. These exercises allow for group interaction, and encourage information sharing and collaboration within teams and across functions.
- Coaching Guides for managers that include "Instant Assessments" or questions that help a manager determine the level of knowledge and behaviors typically performed in the field. These are particularly helpful when behavior cannot be observed and managers need to understand their direct reports' knowledge and application. For example, dedicating time during team conference calls and meetings to share marketplace analysis insights and key actions taken by the sales organization to "move the needle" and impact sales results.
For more information on how WLH Consulting, Inc. can help you customize a Business Planning Framework or support a Business Acumen Learning Program, please email firstname.lastname@example.org,
or feel free to call (954) 385-0770.
Additionally, WLH Consulting, Inc. can work with you to develop the appropriate cascade, learning programs, and supporting tools to drive desired results.