Minding Your Business

August 30, 2015


There are lots of good reasons to mind one’s business. But, I’m not talking about being nosey.  I’m talking about being mindful, knowledgeable and intentional about your business. 


I’ve said countless times that HR professionals must be business leaders first, HR leaders second.  It is absolutely incumbent upon us to know and speak the language of business.  That means being knowledgeable in the broadest sense, to that which is specific to your own company and industry.


In the WGNinHR inaugural podcast interview with Darren Kimball, CEO of The Five O’Clock Club, he shared the importance of HR folks being able to learn new languages.  It’s simply not enough to know HR. We must be fluent in other languages – meaning, the language of other functional areas.  There are several ways to approach the work of acquiring new languages.  


Self-education is vital.  The internet is not referred to as the ‘world wide web’ for nothing!  There is frankly zero excuse for not acquiring new information with this vast resource at our fingertips.  The ability to research terms and definitions is, quite literally, a click away. But, we need to go deeper.


We are often accused of too much HR-speak in our field; too much jargon.  I agree with this, but only to a small degree.  While we certainly want to ensure that our colleagues know what the heck ‘organizational development’ means, every functional area has its own terminology – its own language.  So, I’d encourage you not to dilute your own language in HR – particularly if you’re being encouraged to do so by those without the patience to understand it.  But, please do learn other languages as well! 


You have everything from ‘amortization’ to ‘basis points’ in the field of finance, and ‘delphi methods’ to ‘random sampling errors’ in marketing.  On and on.  Every field ‘speaks’ with a unique voice and language.  It’s part of what makes the business world go round.  The key for HR professionals is to learn these languages, then speak them with fluency and apply them in conference rooms and boardrooms.  How?


Well, do you know the difference between: profit, revenue, net income, capital and equity?  Can you apply that understanding to the business to which you belong? When your quarterly meetings turn to the review of the financials do you tune out, or lean in?  I hope it’s the latter.  I would recommend a book by author, Kevin Cope - Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career and Company.  And, there are many others to tap into – just do your homework.


Another method of building business acumen has everything to do with the company you keep.  I recently attended a fantastic conference called TalentBlend, organized by Meritage Solutions.  At that conference, one of the speakers encouraged her HR colleagues to become BFFs with the CFO.  The importance of building the right relationships can never be overstated, nor is it news.  However, as an HR professional who desires to increase your business acumen, who better to partner with in this endeavor than the CFO or finance colleague in your own company?  There is a natural partnership between these two teams as headcount needs funding, vacations need accruing and merit increases need budgeting.  But, it’s so much more than those things.  Your finance leaders can shed light on your company’s revenue model, vulnerabilities in forecasts, trends and funding for program delivery in ways that can enlighten you tremendously.  Have lunch with them.  Invite them to your team meetings.  Invite yourself to theirs.


Finally, one of the most direct ways to build business acumen is to hear from the proverbial horse’s mouth.  I’ve become increasingly intrigued by the concept of shadowing or rotational assignments that would allow an HR professional to truly learn the business.  How might this work? Someone in HR identifies another method – or resource – to continue their day-to-day responsibilities for a period of, say, 3 months -  while they shadow a colleague/team within a business unit. In those 3 months, that HR person would attach herself to a business unit observing and, where possible, providing light support to the business as part of that developmental assignment.  In this scenario, HR is deepening their business acumen and returning to HR better equipped to support the business.  A true win-win (see: Bridging the HR and Business Worlds: Is It Give and Take?).


What about you?  What other creative suggestions on deepening business acumen might you have to share from your brainstorms or experience?

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