Let’s say that one day the CEO or CFO asks you to look into outsourcing key functions to cut costs. He wants a proposal by next week. But you lack the business skills to negotiate and manage contracts or oversee relationships with vendors. Realizing this, the CFO then takes the helm on the project and your strategic influence takes a major hit.
This isn’t an isolated case. More than ever, top execs are seeking professionals with business skills to help shape organizational strategy.
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Examples: In recent years, Microsoft, Avent, AthenaHealth and Qwest Communications have asked business managers with no HR experience to head their HR departments.
Unilever started an “HR Academy” to train about 1,000 HR managers in basic business skills. Dupont uses business managers as part of an informal training program to bring HR up to speed on financial and strategic issues.
Many HR professionals at small and midsize companies are likely to have more contact with top executives and more chances to impress them with business knowledge—or lack of it.
If big companies can turn to business managers to handle HR jobs and projects, so can smaller businesses. Don’t let it happen to you.
Here are the top business skills that experts and surveys say executives want in professionals:
1. Know how to use basic business metrics to sell your projects. Calculate a proposed project’s financial impact on revenue, profits, productivity and customer relationships. Figure out the amount of upfront investment and keep it minimal. Demonstrate the return on investment and when the organization will receive it.
Be able to figure out a project’s impact on market share, product quality, the time it takes to develop a product or service, product flaws and rejection rates, and customer satisfaction and service.
2. Know the type of data that managers need to meet their business goals. The data can relate to initiatives such as launching or improving a product or service to enhancing customer service and productivity. Understand the business goals of the initiatives.
3. Know each department or division as a business unit unto itself. Understand how each unit makes money, what it contributes to the bottom line, how it produces products or services and who buys them. Think of yourself as a business consultant for each division.
In today's downsized corporate world, you may need to know how to navigate the world of finance – even if you have a completely unrelated job.
With Mastering Business Finance, you'll learn how to:
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- Analyze financial statements
- Manage fixed assets, inventory and receivables
- Forecast your business’s cash flow for a whole year
- Prepare financial proposals for venture capitalists and banks
- Choose a technique for sales forecasting
- Rate your loan worthiness
- Choose between a variable and fixed budget
- Troubleshoot with ratio analysis
- Reap extra profit from your budget
- Identify and distribute hidden costs
- Coordinate your business plan and budget
- Use zero-based budgeting effectively