Business acumen is often described as an innate quality of successful business leaders.

It is commonly defined as the ability to assess market conditions and make fast and effective decisions to meet changing business situations and demands.

However, in reality, business acumen is acquired through experience and is closely linked with an individual’s personal development.

In today’s volatile business environment, it is important for all managers and employees to have a level of business acumen to remain relevant on the job and to be better prepared for unexpected career changes.  

Fundamentally, business acumen is also about knowing how your company operates, makes profits and remains viable, and what your role is in the process.

Most of the time, people often remain focused only on their specific role and fail to understand the impact of their role on the overall operations and profitability of the company.

Each role in a business relies on and affects other roles. For example, constant poor service from a customer service officer will affect sales. The resulting drop in sales will cost the company money and eventually lead to a negative impact on the company’s profits and image.

Several key elements are crucial in supporting the development of business acumen.

These elements are not only important for company leaders but are just as vital for enhancing career development, no matter where you are in the progression line of the organisation.


Valuing relationships is a key aspect of business acumen. Strong relationships are essential for long-term business success and usually help guide the future of an organisation.

You cannot just focus on your specific role in the organisation without appreciating how your actions and decisions affect others. Thus maintaining and developing effective working relationships is vital for long-term business sustainability as well your own career success.

Cultivating good relations with other employees, customers and vendors includes valuing feedback and complaints to strengthen such relationships.


It is important to understand and keep track of developing market trends and technological advancements that could affect your company’s growth.

Such trends can also directly impact the future of your own job. It is a fact that the relentless pace of technological progress today is greatly affecting the relevance of many jobs and how companies fundamentally operate.

Keeping pace with trends that affect your company is necessary to better prepare you to face job transitions.

Personal development

Business acumen also involves the need to see every day as an opportunity to learn something new. Business as well as career success is dependent on your commitment to continuous learning.

Problems and mistakes at work may at times be unavoidable or beyond your control.

The important thing is not to be discouraged by such events but to recognise them as learning opportunities that will improve your ability to take the initiative, strengthen decision-making skills or even help you recognise blind spots that are preventing your progress.

Learning from mistakes can often help turn them into strengths and opportunities that could in the long-term benefit you and your company.

4 Effective communication

Sharpening your business acumen also involves good communication skills. Communicating well with stakeholders is an important factor in the success of any organisation.

The lack of effective communication inevitably affects business relationships as well as your ability to do your job well.

Effective communication arises from a commitment to actively listen to people and to give concise and accurate answers. It also means being honest, clear and polite in all your interactions with customers, co-workers and competitors.

5 Big picture

Understanding the big picture by constantly being aware of how every part of the business is fulfilling its goals and remaining sustainable is another important part of developing business acumen.

Keeping a wider perspective of the organisation beyond the boundaries of your own job is critical for anticipating changes.

This will be helpful when you are adapting to unexpected transitions or making any personal career moves in tandem with changing organisational situations.

6 Goals

Clear organisational goals are important in ensuring business survival as well providing value to customers. Understanding how and when goals are reached is a necessary element of business acumen.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are usually used as a gauge for tracking the attainment of goals.

Each company will set its own KPIs depending on business needs, as well as different methods to track the contribution of each job to goal attainment.

Thus a good appreciation of the organisational KPIs linked to your job will help you in setting your own goals and priorities for your career development.


Article by C. R. Krishnan, a registered counsellor and career coach with 35 years’ working experience as a human resource practitioner. He is actively involved in both workplace and school counselling. For more information, e-mail him at