The pandemic fundamentally changed most business models and consumer behaviour trends in 2020. There has been continuous work from home, digitisation of business models, rise of online purchases, movement towards entry level products, prioritisation of health, hygiene and safety over everything else, employee burn out and a general sense of despondency.

When I had interviewed around 100 corporate leaders for my book Hacks for Life and Career: A Millennial’s Guide to Making it Big, it was abundantly clear that millennials lacked the necessary skill sets to succeed in their lives professionally and personally. The pandemic has aggravated and given this skill set gap a new direction. This column looks at the differentiating skill sets millennials will need to master, to strive for professional success in the years ahead. While important, the answer is definitely not more data analysis and robust problem solving.

Importance of business storytelling

Going forward, the work environment is going to be primarily work from home with occasional visits to the office. With a large number of stakeholders—employees, trade partners, suppliers, and consumers, distance can prove to be a significant deterrent in building powerful relationships and having effective communication.

In such a context, mastering the art of business storytelling can go a long way in driving interpersonal communication effectiveness and taking everyone along towards a shared vision. For instance, instead of communicating that, ‘there is a 67% probability that 73% of urban women will buy online groceries within a 90% confidence interval’, it might be more prudent to communicate, ‘Mehak, a 28 year old from Mumbai, will start buying most of her groceries online’. Many leading IT companies (e.g., Microsoft, Wipro) are already experimenting with dedicated storytellers as a role.

The easiest way to get proficient in this technique is to watch the best of Hollywood movies with a keen focus on the underlying script (I suggest you start with the Batman series by Christopher Nolan).

Mastering the nuances of human behaviour

With a hybrid home and office working model to be the likely future norm and the rise of machines to undertake transactions that are repetitive, a key skill set millennials will have to master is shrewd business judgement in areas like sales pitches, vendor negotiations, employee hiring, drafting contractual terms and conflict resolution. To win in these situations, a keen sense of understanding elements of human behaviour will go a long way in appreciating the hidden process of decision making a human being undertakes and the potential biases he might be carrying.

For instance, in a pricing negotiation, sometimes it is best to walk away in the beginning if the other side starts with a price that is not even close to the range of ideal prices to avoid a psychological anchor for future negotiations. A focus on behavioural economics will greatly aid millennials to succeed in such an environment. While there are dedicated courses to this topic, a few books like Nudge, Misbehaving and Thinking Fast and Slow are excellent starting points.

Narrate the same message in multiple languages

One of the expected economic narratives across countries will be to look inward and be self-sufficient. This has historical context in the perceived failure of globalisation in driving inclusive growth and imbalanced nature of bilateral trade between countries. In such a context, there will be an increasing focus in appreciating local cultural sensitivities and regional languages.

There is already a focus on regional languages with Walt Disney & Universal Pictures moving away from big Bollywood blockbusters and spreading over multiple languages. As the movie theatres are opening, it is the regional language movies (e.g., in Kolkata) that are topping the charts. For millennials, this will imply knowing the local sensitivities of various cultures and being fluent in more than just English and Hindi.

Listening effectively never goes out of fashion

Irrespective of the economic phase and the disruption, the most important quality that everyone should be proficient in is the art of listening. This is important as listening corresponds to 55% of total communication ahead of writing, reading and speaking. In the current context, with excessive noise, it is important to listen to consumers, employees and vendors effectively.

During my interviews with corporate leaders, they repeatedly mentioned that millennials lack the ability to listen as they often try to interrupt consumers during their feedback, think of justifying their negative feedback and not writing down enough. The simplest way for millennials to cultivate the art of listening is to never interrupt, write down everything and build an opinion only towards the end of the discussion.

Jack of all trades and master of a few

It is a no-brainer that the world is changing significantly with the half-life of technologies hovering around 3 - 4 years. The industry and the domain knowledge in vogue today might not be relevant in a few years.

For instance, by 2028, all in-store transactions in India might be Iris led. During such a period of incessant change, a mentality to absorb ambiguity and constant change along with the resultant insecurities becomes critical. This starts from being a generalist by having delved into a broad based set of roles. The modern day Jack will need to be adept at most trades and only master of a few. In scientific parlance, this is termed cognitive flexibility.

In conclusion, Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the dynamics of business models. The job market is expected to be a struggle over the next few quarters. From a long term perspective for millennials, consciously working on the above mentioned skill sets will go a long way in driving professional success. Hope you are ‘listening’.

Views are personal. The author has been a strategy consultant for over a decade. He is the author of ‘Hacks for Life and Career: A Millennial’s Guide to Making it Big’.

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