Are you a Manager Guilty of Killing Commercial Acumen? An Open Letter to Management

Business Acumen

It’s time we had a deep and meaningful conversation about commercial acumen.

You know what I mean – good old fashioned business sense.

Who is responsible for developing commercial acumen within your organisation?
Is commercial acumen something that can be developed. Or is the ‘gut feel’ of a commercial deal something that is innate?

Commercial acumen was something I learnt over time, and perhaps through ‘osmosis’.

After graduating high school, I studied to be a mechanic. I learnt everything I could from the ground up. I must have swept the floor over a hundred times before I “graduated” to tightening bolts, changing oil, and replacing spark plugs. Only when I demonstrated competency at these basic tasks was I allowed anywhere near a carburettor.

Besides these mechanical skills, the most valuable thing that I learnt was what it meant to look someone in the eye, shake their hand, ease their mind, and gain a customer for life.

On top of that, when getting parts from the local wrecker, I made sure I was the best customer, with the finest attitude … and this ultimately enabled me to obtain the best deals.

While working on my apprenticeship and developing these new skills, I would often find myself saying “yes” to helping friends fix, detail, or customise their cars – mostly in exchange for something – like a beer, a pat on the back, or just goodwill. One day, my manager, Mr Warren-Smith kindly suggested that I bring all of my friends’ cars to the shop and charge them for every job they had requested. Mr Warren-Smith said “You have a fantastic new skill, don’t let your friends abuse it!”.

This kind of advice was great. I learned so much from being guided and trained in the first few years of my working career and even though I’ve left that industry, the lessons learnt in commercial acumen have never left me.

Combining technical skills (including diagnoses, problem solving and technology) with soft skills (including customer service and communication) and learning what customers value, were all incredibly crucial lessons in understanding how to be astute.

Learning was critical for me for so many reasons:

  1. I became an expert and was still supported by colleagues around me who were a skilled knowledge bank. I was surrounded by like-minds who were all driven to the greater purpose of problem solving, customer care and quality work.
  2. I learned to love the business I was in; I worked there for a substantial amount of time and had the business’ best interests at heart, especially their financial interests, and the training made me feel like I was respected enough for them to nurture me.
  3. I still use all of these skills to this day. Wanting to attain the best results for the business I work in – and for our customers – is a sentiment that grows each day.

Is being a graduate of the “University of Life” the only way to learn acumen? 

Are the fundamentals that you gain at the “School of Hard-Knocks” and basic business savvy skills attained from the “University of Life” necessary to truly have commercial acumen? I don’t think so. However I would ask whether all of the processes, red-tape, systems and management structures that are present in our every-day work-lives lead to ‘group think’. Do these structures help or hinder our commercial thinking? Is commercial thinking a creative ‘out-of-the-box’ approach; or is it a deeply analytical bring-out-the-spreadsheets approach? Which management style is best to nurture commercial nous in your team;  arm-length, micro management or somewhere in-between?

This is a conundrum across all sectors and industries.

A client recently confided to me that within his Local Government organisation a large percentage of the younger staff don’t see a need to reach breakeven, let alone profit. His admission reminded me of an excellent article titled “Why Millenials Keep Dumping You”, about driving purpose in younger staff, investing in, and acknowledging their contributions. While it’s true that many Local Government departments are not expected to turn a profit, services such as cultural centres, children’s services and community events should absolutely be encouraged to do so. Whether this be through ticket sales or sponsorship, the money sourced should be enough to sustain the service or event without solely relying on Government support.

Supporting younger staff by focussing on instilling in them a sense of commercial acumen will ultimately help your bottom line and reverse the attitude that business is simply transactional. But this attitude isn’t just a reflection of Local Government.

Even private companies are not immune from the quandary.

They too suffer from the common complaints of high-turnover management and staff who are so used to simply churning out their workload without regard for the overall delivery of the service or product. Management find it difficult to embed a sense of commercial acumen that is achievable and sustainable.

So, why is it so hard? As Managers, what are we doing wrong? Can we fix this issue? Doing nothing will all but destroy everything the business achieved, and trust me when I say: “it doesn’t take much to destroy it completely”; however with the right education, it can be fixed.

Consider what could be achieved by turning the dial on nous alone.

Well, our recently upgraded commercial acumen short course builds nous, quickly. Boosting your acumen will impact on how you operate, interact and influence.

The course requires x2 half-days from you (1 full day) in a virtual online setting (no need to travel). It is delivered by one of Australia’s top Procurement deal makers and offers you acumen in spades! It is perfect for those starting out in a commercial role, equally it can be used it to inspire new thinking around commercial value.

Get the course outline here >