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Why financial acumen is critical for all levels of a business

March 6, 2019

Vinod Kumar   

Managing Director and Group CEO Tata Communications

Keeping up with the pace of change in the digital era is a major challenge. Especially when there isn’t an even playing field among the workforce. As a CEO, I’m well aware that a lack of the required skills is a major issue for businesses in 2019 and the gap separating the talent champions from the rest has been growing rather than diminishing. That’s one of the findings of the latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) report, which we at Tata Communications have contributed to for the second time.

The idea behind the report is to measure levels of entrepreneurial talent and global competitiveness. And beyond that, it also aims to suggest practical tools that can help us to unlock employees’ potential to boost innovation and ultimately, help the business to succeed. The report also pinpoints areas that business leaders can look at to reduce the impact of the talent competitiveness gap. One of these involves focusing on advancing workforce skills, something which really resonates with me, as a CEO. In particular, the report emphasises the importance of attracting entrepreneurial talent. Entrepreneurial flair is a key characteristic of the type of mindset that embraces the skills need for decision making.

As business leaders, we require employees at all levels of the organisation who can integrate structured and unstructured data to make market differentiated decisions at speed. Decision-making skills are absolutely vital to business success as they save valuable time, increase productivity and reduce conflict. The result is a more capable workforce, career progression and positive business outcomes for the organisation.

In order to effectively make decisions, the ability to identify problems and come up with options requires strategic acumen. And evaluating these options invariably involves financial analysis. A solid understanding of the numbers involved in any business process leads to faster and more effective decision making. This kind of financial acumen is especially critical in times of economic uncertainty. And while organisations must lead from the top, an understanding of financial analysis shouldn’t simply be left to the CFO – it must permeate every level of the business.

For those in specialised roles, such as engineers, they may have little or no exposure to the commercial aspects of the business. And even MBA graduates may forget the basic financial concepts when they make the step from the theoretical world of the lecture hall to the workplace.

The good news is that financial acumen is a skill that can be learnt. And business leaders, myself included, have some degree of responsibility to ensure that the right policies and training schemes are in place to enable staff to learn crucial financial skills. However, it’s also essential for employees at all levels to be proactive when it comes to their own development. It’s important to try and recruit employees with the necessary skills, but also to foster them among the existing workforce. When it comes to decision making, strategic thinking sits alongside financial acumen as an essential skill. What’s more, leadership skills are needed in order to see decisions through and persuade others to accept them as the right course of action.

I’m a firm believer in fostering an environment of continual improvement – learning should be viewed as a lifelong pursuit. Business is about people, and addressing the global talent gap is the key to success in the era of digital transformation.

Read more analysis from Vinod on the GTCI report here.