Seeing the Big Picture: Developing Business Acumen for Organisational Awareness

“We have three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.”


These are the words of Daniel H. Pink in his insightful book, ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’. Fascinating,don’t you think, that we can overlook something as obvious as the core needs for people to feel like they do their jobs well, that they have some degree of control, and that they have a sense of connection, or ‘relatedness’ to their work and their organisation. It’s hard to feel deeply connected to your work, or your workplace, when you potentially have a limited or incomplete understanding of the business roadmap. As EAs and PAs we often develop exceptional knowledge and insights into the functioning of our own roles, those that we support, and the key stakeholders with whom we interact, but there’s a bigger context. Sometimes it’s that bigger context where a deeper understanding and broader awareness could make a profound difference to the way we shape our perspectives, make decisions, add value, establish our profile and generally interact with other people in a professional capacity. So how do you build your ‘business acumen’ and cultivate a higher level of organisational awareness in your role as an EA or PA? In reality, it’s about becoming better informed, and staying current in terms of how your organisation operates, competes, sustains itself, grows, and contributes to its customers, industries and communities.

In practical terms, there many ways to achieve this, but here are five simple things that you can do to cultivate your business intelligence and stay connected and purposeful in your work:

#1 Dedicate time to having conversations with experts within your business Experts love to share their expertise, so create opportunities to learn what you can from them about their role, their teams and their goals. Once you have a basic understanding of their roles and how their part of the operation works, you’ll be better placed to continue these conversations on a regular basis, and constantly learning more about how each part of the organisation can help make other parts more successful.

#2 Tap into information about your industry For each and every industry there is a plethora of information that is easily accessible via industry organisations, publications, current affairs and professional networks. Make this material your reading “fodder” and us it as the basis for learning more about your own organisation and how it works within the industry.

#3 Explore general management concepts and topics You may not have the word manager in your title, but even if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to be a good manager! The vast subject of management applies to anyone who drives or contributes to organisational goals, and there are some foundation management concepts (like ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ or ‘cause and effect’ for example) that can help everyone to be more personally effective. Whenever you enhance the way in which you deliver results in your role, your team, your organisation and your customers all benefit – it’s like the “butterfly effect”!

#4 Think of yourself and your role in terms of how you serve customers Even if you think you don’t have any direct connection to customers, you will be amazed to “map” how your efforts indirectly contribute to the success of your team, your department, the business, and ultimately the people that your business or organisation serves. In everything you do, you will be able to find a connection back to the customer and the overall prosperity of your business or the community it serves – you really just have to think about it.

#5 Become a ‘Maven’ A maven (a.k.a. mavin) is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others. The word maven comes from Hebrew, meaning “one who understands”, based on an accumulation of knowledge. This concept isn’t about being the gatekeeper or holding knowledge because knowledge is power, but it’s more about being well-connected, wellinformed and being known for having a deep understanding of how things work and how things can be achieved. Being a maven is also about being one of the first to pick up on new trends or information (an ‘early adopter’), and being influential because you can help others to grasp new trends or insights. Developing your business acumen and organisational awareness is as important as learning about the latest tools and best practices in your role. Overlooking this vital dimension of your professional repertoire can be a self-limiting move. The solution? Stay conscious of, and focused on, your mastery, self-drive and connectedness, and you will become an even more valuable asset to your team, your business, your customers and potentially your profession.

Pamela is facilitating The Strategic EA: Business Acumen for Senior EA/PAs for Bright*Star Training


Written by Pamela Cronin

NEW Speakers for Web 201318Pamela Cronin has more than 15 years’ experience working with organisations across the public and private sectors.  Her training combines rich, contemporary theory and stimulating activity, providing practical tips and advice.  Pamela draws on her expertise in the areas of people management, business strategy, communication and team development to deliver challenging learning in a personable way. She is an accredited Team Management Index (TMI) Facilitator, and is the author of the Brooker’s New Zealand ‘Guide to Training and Development’.