Missing Secret to Career Success- Business Savvy

I came across a great article posted in the Boston Globe called Getting Ahead: Makeup, gemstones, and Jimmy Choo aren’t enough. The article states that despite the large volume advice going to women about resiliency and authenticity, about building interpersonal and leadership skills, and even about work/life balance tips, women are not being given everything they need to achieve career success.

To advance, women need the missing 33%- business savvy

For years, conventional wisdom has delivered to women a two-part career success equation that goes something like this: Interpersonal skills plus personal/professional excellence equals career success.

While this pretty much holds true for men, it isn’t the equation that moves women up the ladder.

In reality, the career success equation is a three-part equation: Personal excellence plus interpersonal skills plus business acumen equals career success.

Because the traditional success equation is missing 33 percent, many corporate leadership development programs overfocus on teaching interpersonal skills and personal attributes. But these are the areas where women are consistently rated as outperforming men.

Sadly, these programs underemphasize (or completely ignore) the most important career driver: business acumen.

This works to your disadvantage because study after study shows that men who make decisions about advancement expect that men have business acumen and women don’t.

I thought about this one for little bit, and I completely agree with her point.  With all of the webinars, conferences, workshops, panels, and sessions I attend, none are focused on business acumen.  I know that before I became a project manager, I had no idea about the “business” behind products.  Financial terms were mysteries to me.  I had little clue how interactions with customers went and how we made trade offs on product features.

I’ve learned my business acumen by asking to be included in meetings where it is discussed, listening, and posing questions to people who do it well in one-on-one meetings.  I can certainly say I have a long way yet to go.

I also think it’s interesting that the article points out that men are by default thought to have this business acumen, and women by default are thought not to have it.  Sadly, I think this is true.  I think it is similar to technical skills.  When most people first meet me, they do no immediately think I am technical.  On the other hand, most men in my group are by default thought to be technical or have technical backgrounds.

The article goes on to give some good advice around building your business savvy:

1. Learn the business of your business. Understand how what you do contributes to cash, growth, return and customer service and acquisition.

2. Develop strategic acumen. Understand how external forces, internal capability and financial and other outcome goals drive your organization’s strategy.

3. Develop financial acumen. Know the story behind the numbers and the actions needed to deliver on financial goals.

4. Speak the language of outcomes. Don’t focus on how hard you work or what you’ve done. Instead, speak the language of cash, growth, return and customer – and the ways you’ve significantly impacted your organizations goals in these areas.

These are 4 big areas that certainly take dedicated time and effort over years to gain the knowledge.  I better get going on them…

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mark T on March 25, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    This was a very interesting post. It makes sense and it inspired me to investigate further. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the studies that show men who make decisions about advancement expect that men have business acumen and women don’t.

    I used google to search for “men have business acumen women don’t”. I also tried “do men think women don’t have business acumen?”. I checked the first 50 links for each search string, but found no relevant studies. Would appreciate if you could share any pointers to those studies 🙂

    In any case, yes, it certainly makes sense that the road to success includes business acumen.


  2. Posted by kiki on September 20, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Wow, I’ve never thought about that. I think working for a small company has exposed me to these points. Do you think that business acumen is relevant for individuals who are on the individual contributor path?


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