Our Projectified with PMI podcast continues to feature dynamic guests sharing fresh perspectives on the future of project management. Earlier this month, host Stephen W. Maye chatted with Dana Brownlee, a strategy consultant and former project manager, about "Millennials in the Workforce."
The Census Bureau doesn't actually recognize "millennials" as an official demographic, and there aren't precise dates to define this group that follows Generation X. But a widely accepted definition is a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st Century — anyone born between the early 1980s and early 2000s.
If you have siblings or children born on each side of that range — say in 1979 and 1983, or 2002 and 2006 — it wouldn't be surprising if they were more alike than different, so we should keep in mind that we're painting with a broad brush when discussing millennials or any generation.
But from a project management perspective, experienced project managers can certainly benefit from gaining a better understanding of the behaviors and mindsets of a group that is becoming a larger portion of the workforce each and every day.
Likewise, millennials — or Next-Gen PMs — need to understand how the older generation works as they seek to build credibility, influence and responsibility in their developing careers.
As Brownlee and Maye dove into the topic, one thing became clear: both Next-Gens and older generations have good things to offer and teach each other. But that isn't easily apparent if we operate in silos and stick to "our crowd" or comfort zone.
Awareness and relationship-building are critical, Brownlee says.
"It's hard to trust a person you don't like and it's hard to like a person you don't know, so it all starts with being very intentional about breaking up those cliques and creating opportunities for people who might come from different generations to actually get to know each other, and from there you can do some amazing things."
The responsibility to accommodate and adapt lies on both sides, and this episode shares several enlightening examples of how that can happen. Here are two:
For Next-Gen PMs, maybe the best place to focus on first is learning to take feedback, Brownlee says.
"One litmus test that I use for younger team members is not just how well do they do on a task, but how well do they take correction ... because if I get someone who takes feedback really well and I can tell they internalize it — they didn't get super-defensive — that's someone that I can work with much better."
On the other side, for experienced project managers and team members, it is important to be open to the new ways of thinking that technology-savvy Next-Gen PMs can bring to problem solving and collaboration. And that requires getting to know them as individuals, Brownlee says.
"One of the first things I'd advise project managers [is to] meet with people individually. When new people join my team I always meet with them individually and ask them all kinds of things. 'Hey, are you a morning or evening person?' ... 'If I were to reward you for doing a great job, what reward would be most meaningful for you?'"
The answers will vary dramatically, Brownlee promises. And that, ultimately, is the whole point. We can make some general observations about how millennials differ from older generations in the workforce, but we really can't begin to maximize their full potential unless we approach and get to know them as individuals.
This connection, of course, is a two-way street, and Next-Gen project management professionals must also recognize how their expectations should adjust and align with the organizations they are entering and the teams they are joining.
It all comes down to listening, doesn't it? And you can listen to all our Projectified episodes at pmi.org/podcast.