Building “Skilled Mindsets” with the Business Acumen Canvas [Part 2]

February 21, 2020

This is Part 2 of a Series Focused on the Business Acumen Canvas

Read Part 1 of the Business Acumen Canvas Series here.

Senior executives want emerging leaders and managers to think like strategists and act like entrepreneurs. This is easier to ask for but harder to obtain. The reason, as we’ve learned is rooted in the mindsets and mental models. To advance an organization with people equipped with the business skills to succeed, it’s important to be able to recognize what’s needed to cultivate “skilled mindsets.

This article discusses what’s needed to advance overall company effectiveness by ensuring that business people can think and act on behalf of the firm’s best interests. It focuses on the seven dimensions of “mindset” in that particular section of the Business Acumen Canvas. (The Business Acumen Canvas, produced by the Business Acumen Institute, serves as a multi-dimensional roadmap to help business people in their efforts to become more effective).


As explained in the initial article about the Business Acumen Canvas’s first layer which focuses on the external factors to business success – understanding the market, your revenue model, etc., — the second layer focuses on right mindset. This mindset aims to leverage internal and external relationships, as well as strategic thinking.

And again, as we explained in the first article, leaders don’t have to worry if the proper mindset is something that takes years to develop; we’re here to fast-track the process, so you’ll start seeing results almost immediately.

The 7 Steps

In many respects, these traits look like bullet points on a senior executive’s resume. And that’s the idea as today’s business news is filled with management concerns about bench weakness, i.e. not having a ready supply of future leaders.

Leaders want team members who:

  1. Think strategically
  2. Build internal relationships
  3. Cultivate external relationships
  4. Stay outcome-driven
  5. Take action
  6. Assume responsibility
  7. Earn credibility

Cultivating these characteristics is pointless if leadership doesn’t exemplify each one on a daily basis. Some people think leadership is all about charisma or genius when in reality, leadership skills are learnable and develop with practice over time.

The best leaders model a competitive sense of urgency with a commitment and determination that’s infectious. But even those with the sharpest leadership acumen rarely have the time and/or ability to nurture these traits in others.

Our training applies to all levels of staff, from the c-suite to middle managers on down.


What is a Strategic Mindset?

Strategic thinkers always seek to have a deep understanding of the company’s people, processes and products. They’re always focused on the market, alert to shifts and outright threats and considering possible solutions to both. They’re also adept at conceiving scenarios that identify business opportunities.

A strategic mindset also integrates systemic thinking which involves an ability to make connections others may miss. They’re able to identify patterns and trends that affect outcomes either positively or negatively both within the workplace and in the market. In other words, they’re “big-picture” thinkers.

A recent McKinsey & Co. study article zeroed in on how a multi-national industrial goods manufacturer “drowning in supply chain complexity” reversed course by having supply-chain specialists sit down with planners and operational staff, resulting in nearly $100 million in stranded inventory unlocked in less than two months. Without implementing a strategic mindset across several disciplines, these results wouldn’t have been possible.

The capability-building approach included problem-solving, root-cause analysis, and—because executing a solution often required the involvement of multiple stakeholders—influencing and communications skills as well. [Digital Supply-Chain Transformation with a Human Face –McKinsey & Co. Insights, Jan. 2020]

Organizations become market leaders when a strategic mindset prevails company-wide.

Beyond Transactional Relationships

In addition to the strategy-minded, businesses need those who relate extremely well to others. Communication skills are highly prized in today’s work culture where collaboration is key to the success of agile business methods and a project’s success.

The ability to forge deeper connections at work is built on an honest desire to know others – to understand their own mindsets, experiences and other aspects of their background, including the personal ones. This differs significantly from the more traditional view of work relationships as primarily transactional. Today’s connections allow collaboration to flow more freely with more voices heard, improving outcomes – regardless of where individuals work.

Employees and senior leaders alike should take the first step to build bonds with each other. Tap into each other’s expertise regarding a certain problem. Ask if they need help. Touch base about their personal interests or family periodically. As a recent survey of employees found, people report that it’s other people — co-workers and bosses – as the reason they loved their job.

Relationships that also matter are, of course, external ones, and more businesses are realizing the value of building ties with clients, consumers and vendors that are also more than just transactional. Customers increasingly align themselves with brands that represent their values. This shift means teams need to consider how products and services connect with consumers on a purpose-driven level, which returns us to the point about strategic thinking and how team members need to be able to see the big picture.

Companies are extending this focus on relationship-building to vendors. For one major corporation, the shift has enabled its recovery from a recent scandal. Kraft Heinz stock tumbled sharply last year after stories emerged about federal investigations into a “ruthless cost-cutting mentality” that alienated suppliers.

Enter Marcos Eloi who eventually became Chief Procurement Officer for Kraft Heinz and steered it toward collaborative relationships with suppliers that “drive efficiencies and innovation,” he says.

“I would love for a supplier to come to my team and propose a new product or new ingredient or transformation of an existing product. They should not see themselves as simply a supplier but a trusted partner and extension of our company,” says Marcos Eloi in a Food Navigator interview, Jan. 2, 2020.

Mature business-relationship acumen such as this not only allows these types of monumental corporate rebounds to occur, it lays the groundwork for the following group of traits to flourish. l supply-chain transformation with a human face

Outcome-driven, Responsible, Credible

A solid business acumen development program can help people at all levels what excellent communication looks like in a variety of business scenarios. Communication begets relationships which beget trust. Employees gain credibility with co-workers, superiors, and clients. Leaders earn the trust of their staff. When you have a staff adept at communication, truly connecting with others internally and externally, their willingness to take on more responsibility grows.

Imagine a culture where people strive for more responsibility and want to innovate and share ideas because trust has been established. If they know their input is valued and risk-taking won’t be punished, they’re more willing to focus on outcomes that impact the entire organization and not just their department. Nothing allows corporate inertia to continue more than fear-driven decision-making.

In other words, after all this communication- and relationship-building takes place, buy-in increases because the right mindset is in place.

Another byproduct of a culture where this kind of mindset exists is honesty. Which is good, because, without it, the workplace runs into dysfunction quickly. Examples include leaders who sugarcoat pain points related to change with corporate-speak, eroding credibility. Or, staff, fearful of retribution, who remain quiet rather than point out pending trouble. In both circumstances, honesty would have saved everyone time, money and stress.

The Business Acumen Institute will assess the health of your professional development progress as well as an organization’s ability to foster a workforce empowered to contribute at all levels. We help you create an action plan that fills cultural gaps and builds upon existing strengths.

So far, we’ve detailed the first and second layers of the Business Acumen Canvas: the external factors that must be in place and mastered and the pathway organizations must follow to creating a mindset set on success. Our next article focuses on Canvas’s third and final layer: internal capabilities that optimize performance.

Read Part 1 of the Business Acumen Canvas Series here.