I’ve been a generalist most of my life. Even in college, what made me attractive as a job candidate wasn’t my grade point average, but that I took almost all solid courses. Over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of young companies—and even some mature firms—fail because the executives lack core business skills. I was uniquely trained across categories that have come in handy when trying to write a post-mortem on a project or firm that has failed catastrophically. And those catastrophic failures were most often due to a lack of core business skills.
HP has come to the same conclusion, and they have rolled out a series of online business courses that will help you develop the core business skills you may find incredibly useful in your career. Many of us have a lot of time on our hands as we run out of things to stream. So, why not stream some course material that will make you more successful in your business life? This material could also help your older kids develop skills they’ll most certainly need in order not to boomerang back home again after they move out.
Let’s talk about that this week.
The importance of business fundamentals
I can speak to this because I not only picked up three degrees but also took every fundamental business class I could get my hands on, and it created a set of core skills that have been incredibly valuable to me. Most people specialize, but if you are doing a startup, or even working in a big enterprise, you’ll find you need to know how the company operates to outperform your peers.
In a company, you are part of a complex ecosystem that includes finance, accounting, development, manufacturing, services, sales, marketing, research, operations, and human resources. Each of these functions is co-dependent on all of the others, but if you only understand the one you work in, you don’t understand these co-dependencies—making you less effective.
Let me give you some personal examples: When I got my first job in finance, it was managing commissions for the US West Coast of a large US Enterprise. Because I understood how commissions worked, and about motivation (an HR skill), I was able to recommend and then implement programs that improved sales performance. In addition, when the then CEO decided to change the commission structure, I was also able to accurately forecast that sales would drop off a cliff, allowing me to get a new job in Market and Business analysis.
While in that job, my understanding of how sales and prices interacted. A finance skill allowed me to accurately point out that the VP of Sales was full of crap and that the problem wasn’t that we were priced too high, but that his people were inadequately trained.
When the Sales VP then moved to get me fired, my background in security allowed me to both anticipate his leaking of a confidential document to a competitor and catch him in the act. (He had suggested I’d leaked the report.) This saved my job.
Now, as a consultant, my value is that my recommendations take into account what the company can be reasonably expected to execute and include advice that focuses on all elements of a solution, not just one specialty.
Overall, this breadth allows a person to be able to both better see the problems that need fixing and come up with a comprehensive strategic plan that has a far higher probability of success. And, by the way, I’ve done a lot of CEO post mortems, and generally, a CEO will fail because they lack the critical breadth of skills needed to be successful.
HP’s course material
What HP offers isn’t a degree, although you do get a certificate of completion. It is a breadth of basic courses, so you understand how the various parts of any company work. They have classes in business communications, finance, marketing (social media marketing), operations, funding, sales, leadership, design, inventory management, and planning. They also have classes for personal growth like presenting data (and better presentations), success mindset, managing contacts, business email, and building a unique value proposition that make you a better employee overall.
And finally, if you want to do a startup, they have classes on finding funding, identifying your target audience, starting a small business, and hiring staff, which are all critical to getting a business off the ground.
Breadth increases the value of any employee, and since you’re stuck at home anyway, why not use this time to make yourself more valuable and far more capable? You’ve got the time, and HP has the classes. Streaming them will probably do more for you than watching Star Wars again—even though May 4th is next week.
Enjoy, and stay safe (and educated) out there.
Rob Enderle has been a TechnologyAdvice columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.