Posted in: Learning & Development, Mark's Insights, Practice Management,
I’ve had the honor of getting to know many, many firms over the last 15 years. Throughout my travels at AICPA and now as I speak to Allinial Global firms, I’ve continued to hear the need for greater business acumen skills from newer professionals.

But what is business acumen and how do you train for it?

Of course, to find the meaning I relied on my massive research skills—I Googled it.

Here’s what I found:

Business acumen is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a "business situation" in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome. Additionally, business acumen has emerged as a vehicle for improving financial performance and leadership development. Wikipedia

I know what you're thinking: Wikipedia isn't always a reliable source, and you keep warning your team not to use it. But it worked here, and from what I can gather, many agree with this definition.

I’ve also spent significant time talking to firms about the future of the profession. In those discussions, I have often cited the Future of Jobs Survey from the World Economic Forum. According to the latest survey, the top five skills needed for 2025 are:

1. Analytical thinking and innovation
2. Active learning and learning strategies
3. Complex problem-solving
4. Critical thinking and analysis
5. Creativity, originality, and initiative

I believe that all of these skills intertwine to make up this idea of business acumen. But how do we solve for it? I did some research, and I could only confirm what our great L&D team at Allinial Global had already found out. One of the foremost experts is Kevin Cope, founder of Acumen Learning. He wrote a book titled Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company. I highly recommend the book for you and your clients.

Our L&D team had already started working on a program with Acumen Learning before I could even recommend the organization. One thing the L&D team discovered in talking to members and researching the topic is that business acumen training cannot be a generalist-type course. It will be specific to particular industries. But the L&D team also recognized that finance professionals have very different skills than, say, the sales team in an organization. So they worked with Acumen Learning to tailor the program to the needs of Allinial Global members.

Their plan is to offer business acumen learning to our Communities of Practice (CoPs), specifically to those employees who’ve recently joined a member firm and are just starting to learn about the industries and clients their firm serves. We are in the process of scheduling a course for the Manufacturing and Distribution CoP in mid-January or early May. The course will include two four-hour sessions focused on helping attendees understand the following:

How their clients make money
The challenges their clients are facing today
How to create value for clients

Our intention is to expand the business acumen training offering to other CoPs based on participant feedback. I’m excited about this new offering and think it will go a long way toward helping our member firms equip their younger professionals with the skills they need to succeed and better serve their clients.

If you are interested in learning more about the business acumen course, please reach out to our VP of Learning and Development, Kimberly Bates McCarl, at

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