What I Learned from the Next Generation of Workers

The future of business is being shaped by digital transformation, channel and supply disruption, evolving procurement tools and tactics, and an increased need for business agility. These shifts in the way business is done have major implications to how companies sell, analyze, set and negotiate prices. This also dramatically changes what teams look like now and in the future.

The next generation of workers is entering an unpredictable economy, coupled with volatile markets and rapid change. With distance learning in full affect across many universities across the US, it’s time to think about the future, and reevaluate how we prepare, hire, and train the next gen of workers. 

Earlier this year, we teamed up with a notable university and company to create a program that prepares students for emerging business challenges for when they enter the workforce. This program taught us about the future of the workforce and how we envision pricing teams of the future. 

Currently, the future of commerce and business at large is defined by these six D-words.

  • Digital. Digital transformation enables speed and agility, and companies that are successful at transforming themselves are the ones that will be around in 20 years, the ones that don’t will mostly die out. This enables advanced use cases like AR, AI, etc.
  • Disruption and change everywhere. Disruption is seen in supply chains, channels, and manufacturing. Nothing is set in stone and you have to anticipate change and respond quickly or, better yet, drive change yourself with mechanisms in place to test hypotheses.
  • Data-driven leadership: Companies making data driven decisions outperform those that don’t.
  • A distributed workforce: The remote work revolution that has swept corporate life will have lasting impacts on the way work is done.
  • Our diverse world: The world is becoming increasingly diverse culturally and in our narratives, and we must account for this in our planning, marketing and employee training.

In this environment, the future success of companies and the teams of which they are comprised will be doing more than solving problems. It will be about which problems you should be solving, and how to design and enable intelligent systems to advise those decisions which take on the heavy lifting of problem solving.  

For example, today many pricing teams spend most of their time determining how to achieve a goal handed to them by the C suite, with a common request such as, “I want 3% of revenue out of price next year”. Pricing teams need to model this as well as competing priorities, constraints of not wanting to increase prices for any customer more than x% and solve this very complex problem. 

In today’s world, with the right modeling, AI can solve this problem more effectively and efficiently than a person, and provide guidance. The real skill of the future is designing the right models, connecting it to the right data and systems to enable prescriptive action that lead to better outcomes. After these AI models are employed, judgement is key: when a model is not accounting for market dynamics and should be overridden, or adjusted to make better recommendations going forward. This guidance will give way to more of a machine first and person supervised model in more and more complex models.  Today, this is already the case in retail dynamic competitive price categories and other simpler AI use cases.

Employers will look for specific skills to enable success in this new environment. 

  • Digital first: The future of business will be digital first. Embrace this and look for people in pricing and other teams that live by this. This also requires investment in digital transformation, data and systems to enable this.
  • Multi-disciplinary: There is an economic foundation to pricing and other disciplines, but also a behavioral and psychological one. Increasingly, it will also be about how to design the best systems and processes to gain competitive advantage and maintain it over time. Seeing connections and recognizing patterns is key to success in the future.
  • Autonomous and self-motivated: With the distributed workforce, the next generation of workers is and will be working remotely much more often than in the past. It requires a person that can work on their own and stay focused and motivated, especially by learning and a growth mindset.  Saying no is key to both professional and personal requests that stretch one too thin to be their most effective.
  • Creative, dynamic and flexible: Much of the heavy lifting of moving data and analysis will be automated. The teams of the future will be asked for more depth and understanding of the business and creative thinking on how to structure deals to differentiate them and win.  
  • Understanding: A successful pricing team member understands customer value, business, core drivers: The level of conversation will be raised, and context will be key in making the right decision. Sales, marketing and finance need to understand the value customers get from products.
  • Collaborative: A team member must be emotionally intelligent and empathetic to stakeholders. This is always key but will allow teams to foster true business partner and advisor relationships with sales.
  • Data science: It’s imperative to have knowledge with data science, or at least the concepts involved, like segmentation, clustering, regression analysis, a/b testing, training and testing of models, etc.
  • Software: All companies are becoming software companies. Look at what is happening to Tesla’s valuation after the market has realized that their software capabilities are far beyond their competition and the opportunity of robotaxi business model that will be enabled for them. Learn about data, software, integration, data, user experience. 

Foster the right workplace environments.

Create a learning culture that allows teams to take training on data science, machine learning and software architecture. Create cross functional relationships, such as hosting shadow sessions of pricing with the sales team, so they understand a “day in the life.” Give your people the right data and tools to analyze and optimize prices so they can align data and systems. When implementing technology like a pricing solution, take the whole picture into account, including the challenges of sales.  If you prioritize them, it will make change management a lot easier. Be flexible and don’t mandate where work is done. Instead provide flexibility and the right tools and equipment to make employees effective anywhere. You will find this usually increases their productivity and satisfaction. Establishing a positive culture is so important in a distributed workforce, so I recommend businesses encourage experimentation and a culture where it’s OK to try things and fail.  

Many companies today are already employing much of what has been discussed, and those that do benefit now and in the future. For example, Amazon has a “first day” principle (Jeff Bezos claims they are always thinking like a startup), and the 70% rule where you don’t have to be certain of something to try it (otherwise you’re too slow), combined with the fail fast mindset. This has created a culture where creative problem solving and experimentation in the face of uncertainty is encouraged. We can see the results in the market. I recently had the David Cancel of Drift on my podcast, a great example of a CEO investing in a culture of the future with its book club. Employees receive a free book every month to continuously learn about different topics. In my team, we have budget set aside for learning every year for each employee which they are free to use on anything they see as related to their professional or personal growth. There are many examples of this, whing at they all have in common is that they foster a learning culture.

Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” The future is now, tomorrow and the next day. Companies that look forward, create their own progressive culture, and make the investments today can be confident about its future. I’ve watched a new generation of upcoming professionals and how they operate – companies who foster the skills of the future will be better off than those that do not.

Gabriel Smith: Gabriel Smith, the Chief Evangelist and Vice President of Innovation at Pricefx
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