4 essential business skills and why they must be learned


Knowing what business skills are and then how to use them may seem obvious to you, but are they obvious to your young employees who have only recently joined the world of work?


In my recent post on the transformation and contribution of talented young employees I discussed the transformation into competent and confident employees I observed in those that had just graduated from the GradStart programme. 


In this article - the first of two - I will discuss what business skills they learned that helped to transform them.


There are 4 essential areas of business skills that are
so important to learn about.



1.  Industry sector knowledge


When a young person embarks upon their career, building knowledge of their industry sector is critical.  They need to understand what challenges lie ahead for the industry and what external influences may affect it.


This was the first session of the GradStart programme.  A lot of research, including a PEST analysis, went into understanding each of the businesses that were participating in the programme. 


I remember watching the eyes of the young people getting wider and wider as the instructor delivering the session demonstrated a better understanding of their business, industry sector and the external challenges / influences on it, than they did!


It made them sit-up and think about was happening beyond their desk, team, department, company; and at their competitors etc.


What you can do to expand their horizons:


  1. Your young employees will benefit from visits to partner companies and clients to learn about their businesses and how your business supports them.
  2. Arrange talks from colleagues in different job roles and levels of seniority – from other junior and senior employees through to managers and directors.
  3. Help them to learn how to acquire industry knowledge through research techniques, reading industry journals, and learning about your competitors.



2.  Commercial environment


Understanding the commercial environment in which your company operates is important for your future leaders.


Over the years it has surprised me how few employees know the commercial contractual commitments that have been made with partners and clients, and therefore the obligations their company has committed too.


Ignorance is bliss until such time as something goes wrong
and the contract is waved angrily in your face.


For young employees, knowing why and how contractual agreements are made; how to negotiate and behave with your clients and business partners; will ensure they understand the boundaries within which your business operates and the importance of clear personal responsibilities.


And when it comes to 3rd-party partner contracts then they can be really complicated.  Is it your company or the 3rd-party partner that is the first point of contact and responsibility, from your client's point-of-view?


Not always so easy to answer.  Think about when you make a purchase from a retailer.  When a problem arises, is it the retailer or the manufacturer who has responsibility for rectifying it?  What does the warranty say?


In the words of author Stephen King “there's no harm in hoping for the best as long as you're prepared for the worst.


When working for an ecommerce company, I remember sitting in meetings in the run-up to peak trading periods such as Black Friday and New Year sales, and discussing our readiness to handle online demand as stipulated in the client service level agreement (SLA); and everyone being reminded of the financial penalties that would be imposed if we failed to meet those contractual performance targets.


Do your employees know what financial penalties could be levied on your business if you fail to meet your contractual obligations?


Briefing employees on your contracts and SLAs will help avoid problems and incidents arising, as well as ensuring that everyone knows what is expected of them.


And, then there's goodwill...



3.  Customer sales cycle and relationships


How many people know how the sales cycle works, and how sales-people go about building relationships with clients that will make the difference between gaining sales and losing them?


What sales methodology works best for your market - Miller Heiman, Solution Selling, SPIN or something completely different?


Even if your young employees are not directly involved in the sales process, it will reap real benefits for you and them if they are given exposure to it, and allowed to shadow a sales person at various stages of the sales cycle, including negotiation meetings.  You might even find that having a young employee sitting quietly in the background during the negotiation process might positively lighten the atmosphere.


90% of customers walk away without buying anything
if they get bad customer service.


 Helping them to understand how to create an environment which makes customers satisfied with your products and services, will help to ensure their loyalty and supporting your company’s continued growth.


80% of customers are willing to pay more
for good customer service.


It's certainly worth thinking and doing something about.



4.  Financial acumen


Over the years I have encountered many experienced business people who do not understand the basics of business finance and terminology, and struggle to understand what a financial report is conveying.


When asked how he became so successful in investing,
Warren Buffett answered
"we read hundreds and hundreds of annual reports every year."


Profit and loss (P&L), balance sheet and cash flow are key indicators of business performance and health, so it is essential that your young employees are taught the fundamentals of business finance at an early stage in their careers.


Knowing the importance of something as basic as invoicing and payment cycles, and the impact getting those wrong will have on cash flow, could make the difference to a business thriving or surviving, or not.


The last session of the GradStart programme was on financial awareness. 


One of our young participants wrote:


"The whole topic - brand new concepts - extremely relevant to our future career prospects."


I couldn't have put it better myself!



In my next post, I will be discussing the importance of essential soft skills for young employees in order that they lay down a solid foundation on which to build their future careers.