Making Commercial Acumen
the Driving Force Behind Your Learning Strategy

Making Commercial Acumen
the Driving Force Behind Your Learning Strategy

Is Commercial Acumen simply another course in your training plan, or is it the goal of your overall learning strategy?

Roy Magee

VP of Global Sales, Kaplan Professional

Roy leads Kaplan Professional's Enterprise sales teams and has over 25 years of experience in corporate learning, professional education, sales performance and leadership development. Over the course of his career, Roy has managed sales teams and organizations in emerging and developed markets, having studied and worked in Asia and North America, as well as Australasia.

Most will agree that leaders should ensure their people realize the importance of the bigger commercial picture and understand the consequences of everyday decision-making. Still, getting there is not as simple as adding a course to your training plan.

Many of our clients wrestle with the issue of commerciality or commercial acumen for two very good reasons:

– Commercial acumen (or commerciality) is subjective. There’s not a “one size fits all” approach, because it is unique for every business.  

– It’s difficult to know, person-by-person, how commercially savvy your employees are currently. You don’t want to waste money training people on what they already know. Still, there are others who likely need a great deal of training. But how do you assess them individually?  

Overcoming the Inherent Issues of Commercial Acumen Training

Many organizations think of commercial acumen as simply the application of good financial management skills. That’s part of the picture, but that definition certainly misses something: the initiative and insight that can turn a commercially sound decision into a game changer for the business.

Recognizing a need for a strong diagnostic tool for measuring commercial acumen, Kaplan’s financial experts and behavioral scientists created a unique diagnostic approach that aligns your organization’s definition of commercial acumen to the strategic imperatives of your business. After all, what makes for a commercially sound decision in a low margin telecom provider is likely to be viewed very differently in a highly regulated financial services firm.

The Kaplan Commercial Assessment is built around the key drivers or core elements that shape your businesses’ attitudes toward the commercial decisions it wants its employees to make. Is “taking cost out” more or less important than “market savviness” in your business? This tool does the heavy lifting of identifying specific competencies that relate to each driver, allowing us to work with you to further describe what each driver means. The final step is to create scenario-based questions that fully vet the commercial acumen of your people, in the context of your business.

An assessment like this is valuable because it codifies what your business agrees represents good commercial decision-making and benchmarks which employees are aligned with the business’ commercial thinking. The output can then be used to develop a much more targeted developmental approach, focusing on the areas that matter the most to you and align with your employees’ needs.

Are You Giving Commercial Acumen Enough Weight in Your Training Strategy?

Which brings us to the real point of this post—for most organizations, commercial acumen (or “Finance for Non-Financial Managers”) is simply one of the many courses they offer as part of their overall training curriculum, but it is not an integral part of their learning strategy.

If good decision-making is at the heart of every high-performing enterprise, and if commercial acumen (defined in the way that makes the most sense for your business) is integral to good decision-making, then should this not be the overriding goal or purpose of your entire learning strategy?

Take new hires for example. Building financial awareness and capability from the outset can serve a number of purposes for both the individual and the organization. These new hires may not be making the big strategic decisions yet, but many of the skills that should apply when they manage their personal finances are equally applicable in a business context—whether this is identifying waste, financial planning, or just doing a bit of research before signing on the dotted line. I’ve lost count of the number of times, during the budgeting programs we run for both public and private sector organizations, that we’ve applied the test, “But if this was your money, what would you really do?”

Learn how Kaplan can help you meet your business objectives.

More fundamentally, new hires represent the “fresh eyes” needed to provide a catalyst to challenge the way things are done and support the cultural changes that are needed. However, to challenge effectively, they will need a level of commercial awareness (e.g., the ability to “speak finance”) that will allow them to communicate effectively and increase their likelihood of being heard.

Rather than treat commercial acumen as a discrete skill set to be selected off the menu of programs offered in your corporate training catalog, we should be examining every aspect of our learning strategy to determine the extent to which that strategy is in fact building the right type of commercial acumen for your business. The Kaplan Commercial Assessment provides an articulation of what your business believes is best commercial decision-making practice, and around which you can shape your entire training strategy.

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