September 27, 2022

The 10 essential business skills every person (or team) needs‍

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I’m sure we’ve all had this thought over the course of our career: “I wish somebody could give me a playbook on how to be great at my job.”

Well, we’re here to tell you that being a great strategist isn’t a natural talent or a magic trick. It’s a list of critical skills that, when mastered, make you indispensable.

So here they are (shh, don’t tell the others).

1. You understand what drives the health of your business.

To be a great leader, you should understand the metrics that drive success for your business – not someone else’s.

Let’s take a look at an example: Snap. If Snap wants to be the best digital community for Gen Z consumers, a number of factors could drive toward that goal. Perhaps it’s:

  • A world-class ability to build and launch new features
  • Network efforts – meaning every new user increases the value for other users
  • Relevant, authentic content that Snap users can’t get anywhere else

Whatever the answer, it’s important to be aware of those key drivers so that you can focus and prioritize your work.

To learn more, watch the first lesson of Investor Mindset with Eric Kim.

2. You use data to make decisions.

You probably already know that you need to use data – but data can be intimidating if you’re not comfortable with numbers. Don’t worry: it’s easier than you think to get started.

Here are three tips to doing a quick and scrappy analysis of a data set:

Start with a business problem you want to answer.

What data do you have available to you? Now, what question could you answer with that data? (Note: It’s useless to pursue a question that you don’t have the data to answer).

Ensure your dataset passes the “clean dataset” checklist.

Remember: garbage in, garbage out.

  1. Give each column in your dataset a unique title
  2. Make sure currency / dates are formatted the same way
  3. Remove grouped cells and duplicates
  4. Remove all filters from the data
  5. Do not calculate averages, totals, etc. directly in the dataset

Build an analysis and extract insights.

Your insights should take the form of “We see _____ happening right now. We should try _______. We should see ________.”

To learn more, watch the first lesson of the Data & Analytics Sprint.

3. You can solve a problem methodically.

The top consultancies in the world approach every problem with a step-by-step framework. Check out the framework below, which is how Bain and Company breaks down a thorny problem.

First: Establish the “critical question” you need answered. For example, what can Kohl’s do to counteract falling menswear sales? What should Netflix prioritize to attract new users?

Second: Suggest a hypothesis for how to solve the problem.

Third: Brainstorm the top three reasons that support your hypothesis.

Fourth: Decide on the data or facts you’d need to support or refute your reasoning.

Fifth: Work backwards to pressure test each reason and determine whether it supports your hypothesis.

4. You can give a compelling presentation.

There’s a reason public speaking consistently tops the list of greatest fears – it’s scary to put yourself out there in front of a group!

Here are our top tips to give a great presentation. You can read more advice from sprinter Sam Buti here.

  • Paint your audience as the hero of the story. A great presentation makes the audience feel like they’re the focus, not you. If you’re pitching to a client, make them feel like an epic warrior who’s facing a number of challenges – which you can then help them conquer.
  • Talk to one person in the audience. It can get nerve-wracking talking to a huge group. So pick one friendly face, and focus on them. (If you’re on Zoom, encourage people to turn their cameras on – it’s awful presenting to a blank screen).
  • Smile! Smiling is proven to change your tone of voice and make you less nervous.

To learn more, watch the first lesson of the Storytelling Sprint.

5. You can influence other departments to do things.

Almost all leadership positions require cross-functional support. So if you’re in marketing, you’ll almost certainly need things from product and engineering – and vice versa.

The key is being able to influence other leaders into action (without coming across as a tyrant). Here are three steps to wielding cross-functional influence :

Understand their problems first.

Before you go in swinging about what you need done, get a sense of their priorities, challenges, and workload.

Put your request in their context.

Maybe the product update you’re requesting will help your whole business hit an OKR. If so, tell them that. (And if not, make sure to assess whether each request is actually important).

Come up with ideas together.

Ideally, other departments agree with your decisions because they were part of making them. Spend time together to brainstorm mutual solutions, rather than crashing into every meeting with, “This is what we need to do.”

6. You can put together a strategic plan.

Have you ever been told to put together a strategic plan – then gone straight to Google to type in, “What is a strategic plan?”

We’ll make it easy.

Step 1:

Ask yourself, “What does the business need to accomplish this year to meet our goals?” Perhaps you need to grow by 10,000 users or increase revenue 2x.

Step 2:

Ask yourself, “What goals does my department need to hit to ensure that we contribute to the business’ key goals?” Perhaps it’s to decrease CAC, increase renewal rates, or grow your email subscriber base. Those are your OKRs.

Step 3:

Ask yourself, “What can we do to ensure we hit each one of those goals?” Those are the strategies and tactics you’ll want to hit as you move through the quarter or year.

Step 4:

Ask yourself, “How will we know we’re succeeding in the short term?” Those are the metrics you’ll want to measure every month to know if you’re on track.

7. You can manage a team.

It’s hard to be a leader if you can’t manage a team (even though there are certainly a lot of people out there who can’t).

Luckily, you can get started on being a better manager at your next 1:1. Just ask these five questions, expanded upon more in this blog post:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • And what else?
  • What do you want?
  • What was most valuable here for you?

To learn more, watch the first lesson of the Complete Manager Sprint.

8. You can write a convincing memo (or Slack post).

We’ve all worked with someone who’s brilliant, but when they write a message in Slack, you think, “What the heck does that mean?!” To be great at your job, you need to write clearly and concisely when you can’t be in person.

What does a great memo (or Slack recap) look like?

  • The most important information – that is, the takeaway – is summarized at the top
  • The memo or post is all contained in one message or document
  • Supporting information is included but kept brief, with any in-depth research pushed to an appendix
  • The next step or action item is specifically called out

9. You can make (work) friends.

This might sound fluffy compared to more strategic skills, but building good relationships is a huge part of influencing a company’s trajectory. Having strong relationships inside your organization lets you take bigger risks – and it gives you a cushion if you fail.

So how do you make friends, especially if you’re not the world’s most outgoing person?

  • Have a little fun. Dedicate 5 minutes of every 60 minute meeting to small talk.
  • Learn and use people’s names. “Dave, to back up the point you just made…” should be your new go-to phrase.
  • Don’t make it about you. No one wants to listen to someone who’s always talking about their project, their gripes, their vacation. Ask them about themselves – and listen to what they say.

10. You know there’s more to learn.

Business is changing. You can’t rest on the laurels you earned in an MBA program 20 years ago. Stay up-to-date on how other businesses are tackling today’s strategic challenges, and push your team to do the same.  

Our favorite resources:

Want to measure your team’s strategic acumen? Download our guide to the essential skills of every star player.

Greg Shove
Section Staff