The Critical Role of Business Acumen in Your Culture

Michelangelo. Aretha Franklin. Pelé. All three of these individuals are viewed by many as the greatest artist, singer, or athlete (respectively) that ever lived. While they all practiced and worked hard to refine their skills, their level of talent makes it seem as though they were born to excel in their chosen careers.

A skill no one is born with? Business acumen. While some of us might pick things up more quickly than others, the understanding of how a business makes money must be taught or learned in some way, whether through real-world experience or through intentional education. Without a strong understanding of the way business works, executives, directors, managers, and/or supervisors may inevitably make poor decisions that negatively impact their organization’s financial success. Keep in mind, of course, that even those who have a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) make poor decisions at times as well.

Sometimes viewed as the ultimate advantage in running a business, an MBA can help leaders make more informed decisions. And yet, the percentage of business leaders in possession of an MBA is quite small: only one-third of the CEOs who lead Fortune 500 companies hold one. Most others have gotten to where they are through on-the-job training. Regardless of how a leader has obtained their business acumen, they must constantly hone their skills. 

Aligning Daily Actions

Many positions in corporate America demand at least a basic working knowledge of business operations, especially those that are managerial in nature. Every day, people in positions of authority must make decisions that will impact their organizational success in some way, no matter how big or how small. In almost every case, these decisions can create a ripple effect that makes its way to the bottom line. 

For most organizations, it’s just not possible to create educational opportunities that encompass everything being taught in business school. And many large organizations are unable to scale training that would rival the level of knowledge that comes with an MBA. With that in mind, we created Zodiak®: The Game of Business Finance and Strategy. 

The purpose of Zodiak is to help upskill those in decision-making positions. Teams are transformed into business owners as they take over a fictitious business – called Zodiak – and run it for three operating years. Through that process, they are expected to make decisions that improve the financial and operational health of the company they now own. Participants are challenged with generating and understanding key financial statements and ratios to analyze for the next set of decisions to be made. Along the way, they’ll be held accountable by investors, encounter obstacles to overcome, and learn how everyday decisions can have a major impact on bottom-line results. At the end of the simulation, teams should be left with an understanding of various financial terms and the basic flow of business.

The Link Between Decision-making and Culture

At Culture Partners, we view culture as the experiences you encounter every day at work that shape the beliefs you hold, ultimately driving your actions and producing results. When viewed through this lens, culture becomes a tool for getting the results an organization needs.

The foundation of culture is the experiences we create for each other, with the natural output being the overall results. In our core model, The Results Pyramid, experiences make up the foundational layer. Experiences lead us to have certain beliefs (ex. If a product you purchased constantly breaks, this will lead you to believe the company produces poor-quality products). These beliefs lead us to take related actions (ex. If you believe a company produces poor-quality products, you will purchase from a different company). Every action we take has a result (ex. A different company will make a sale). 

When you identify the results your organization needs to achieve, you can make educated decisions about the experiences needed to get there. For example, if you know your business has a financial goal related to EBIT, you’ll need to avoid hiring for a large number of non-essential positions. Instead, you should create opportunities for existing employees to receive support with their workloads.  

Zodiak is an experience for your teams. It allows them to form certain beliefs to guide their decisions (actions). When decision-makers are informed and educated, they’re more likely to make choices that will get the organization closer to its goals, rather than farther away. This is the measurable output of your culture. 

Educate to Empower

Building the right culture for your organization is dependent on your goals. Whether they are financial in nature or not, these goals necessitate accountability from every person within your company. When managers are unable to make educated decisions on a daily basis, the effect on your results – and your culture – is significant. 

However, when managers and other decision-makers are empowered to make the right choices, their organizations benefit and experience growth. For this reason, culture and business acumen are inextricably linked, and it’s in the best interest of your organization to ensure those in positions of authority are educated about the possible outcomes of their decisions. 

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