What Business Acumen Can Do for You

What Business Acumen Can Do for You

April 27, 2016
Business Skills

By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

I spent five years working for Target as a retail dietitian and leading their labeling and regulatory team in the owned brands food businesses.  When I first started there, I was quite frustrated by the core staff development process. Target hires in staff at the business analyst level and moves them from business to business as they move up through the company ranks – from music to hardware to .com to kids clothes to HR to food. They believe that the staff they hire are wicked smart and can learn anything and be successful in any role. It creates an environment with little respect or regard for functional or technical expertise, which we as dietitians have and deem as very important.

But over time, I realized the benefit of this approach and that it can be very successful in a business as complex as Target (Of course, there are exceptions, such as when you have a buyer leading your IT function and you end up with a huge data security breech). There are lessons all retail dietitians can take away from Target’s approach.

The concept of business acumen is understanding how a business operates, how a company makes money, and your role in that process.  Individuals with strong business acumen understand the drivers that move the company forward and assimilate this information into business decisions made and strategic plans developed. They have the ability to gather all pertinent information on a situation, focus on key objectives, recognize relevant options for a solution, select an appropriate course of action, and implement a plan to get the job done.  

Target understands business acumen. They know that if they move staff around to various product categories and functions within the company as they move up the corporate ladder, they will have a more in-depth understanding of how all parts of the company work, and will make better decisions because of this knowledge acquisition.

Retail dietitians will be more successful in their roles if they develop their own business acumen. Some ways to increase your business acumen include:

  • Increasing your knowledge about how the company operates. This could include taking a stretch assignment in operations or store department management or taking training programs your company may have for managers in the more traditional retail business roles. Does your company have committees or task forces you could sit on?
  • Learning more about other functions of the company. Learning how to be an effective listener can make this process easier.  Cultivate relationships with individuals in other departments and learn more about their challenges and concerns.
  • Asking to be copied on financial and other business reports. This can help you better understand the overall business of the company and how your role fits within it.
  • Leveraging vendors to help teach you the business. They talk the talk and walk the walk, and see you as a valuable partner.  Leverage these relationships to better understand the overall business of retail.

Taking this approach will help you more effectively position healthy living solutions and your role within the core business of the retailer.