Developing your business acumen & awareness
In working life, both business and political acumen or insight are important. For these purposes, use the word 'business' in its broadest sense, since most public sector organisations and charities increasingly run themselves along business lines. If you can develop a broad, round knowledge of your business, you'll have a better understanding of how your role fits into it. You'll be better equipped to come up with solutions to problems that arise, or to spot ways to do things differently within the scope of your section, either without affecting the whole organisation or as an example of good practice to set for the entire company. In a large company, this could be as basic as producing a guide for temporary workers in conjunction with human resources perhaps - a friendly welcome so that newcomers know what to expect.
Additionally, the more you know about the sector you work in, and how organisations work, and the more you know about your organisation, the more you'll feel a part of it and contribute to it. Equally, you may start to feel that there are other things in life you consider more important; perhaps doing something for the community by working in politics or local government, or a charity by working in the administrative side.
Here are some suggestions for finding out more about the organisation you work in to boost your effectiveness on the job. For each point, ask yourself how you can use your knowledge to enhance your performance:
- What are the main products and services your organisation has to offer?
- Who are its main clientele?
- What do they expect from your organisation? From you?
- Do you understand all the terminology that people around you use?
- Do you have a clear understanding of the business processes involved in your organisation?
- What does your organisation do to promote itself?
- What are its policies towards managing people?
- What are the strengths of your organisation?
- What sort of name does it have? Does it mean something to people the moment you mention it?
- What are the opportunities for it to grow?
- What external factors affect your organisation? And internal ones?
- Where can you find out what's going on in your organisation? The company intranet site? Staff notice board? By gossiping in the canteen?
- Do you actively seek out articles in the press about your company, and then read them to improve your knowledge and understanding of the company's image?
- What's your company's mission? How committed are you to helping it achieve its goals? Do they excite you and enhance your determination to make a contribution?
- What image does your company aim to portray? How far do you fit into that?
Now look at the sector you work in - it could be health, media, financial services, tourism, engineering, construction, property. Ask your boss which paper in his view gives a good overview of your sector so that you can start boosting your knowledge of how it works and the issues it faces. Look for changes occurring in your sector. How is your organisation responding to them, and how will that affect you? Could it provide a possible way in which you can develop your role, for example?
Find out and consider:
- What changes are taking place in the sector you work in, in terms of customer demands, new legislation coming in which will affect it, whether it's expanding or decreasing?
- Who are the major competitors to your organisation? How much do you know about their products and services, their mission and the image they seek to portray? Compare those to yours. Which excites you more?
How can you use this information in future?
- Think about how much the sector excites you and matches your values. You may need to compromise a bit here. For example, if you work in the financial services sector, you'll know that they pay higher salaries than most others. The work may not inspire you that much - but the financial rewards and bonuses thrill you immensely and fund the lifestyle to which you've become accustomed.
- Do you need to do anything about your reflections from the point above? If you find that your values and those of your employer are miles apart, you may decide it's time to move on.
- Think about the personalities involved in the sector you work in. Are you well suited to it?
- Who are the main recruiters for that sector in your area? For example, when you come to move on, you could enlist the help of a generalist but secretarial agency to help you. Alternatively, if you want to remain in your current sector, or move into a new one, then your best shot is to go to an agency which specialises in handling recruitment for that sector. They will know what works in it and what employers are looking for. Some agencies are generalist, but with speciality divisions, such as legal or languages.
Information is power – but only if you apply and use it.