A new generation of project leaders is rising. Here are six values they bring to the new Project Economy.
A new generation of project talent is rising around the world. With Gen Z entering the workforce and millennials taking on management roles, organizations are being dynamically altered. These project leaders have unprecedented digital fluency, an unflinching readiness for change, a naturally collaborative mindset, a deep commitment to inclusion and environmental issues—and very high expectations about what that means for how we all work.
Unfortunately, too many companies still cling to old-fashioned talent systems that favor experience above all else. For 60 percent of organizations, attracting and hiring the next generation of project professionals is not even a priority, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report: A Case for Diversity. That is a formula for failure.
To better understand how to harness the power and promise of future-focused project professionals, PM Network’s special Future 50 issue highlights 50 young standout project leaders who represent a wave of change and talent around the globe—a "youthquake" that will reshape the future and accelerate innovation in the here and now. In interviews with this year’s Future 50 and dozens of other professionals around the globe, common values and expectations emerge. Here are six takeaways:
1. Ignite a Learning Culture. Finger-pointing and blame are out. They expect a culture that cultivates that learning, growth and risk-taking out in the open, not locked away in a classroom or far from senior leadership. And they want to showcase their skill set, their ideas and to fill a more important role in the organization and projects.
2. Pick Up the Pace. Speed is in, especially for career advancement. More than half (57 percent) of Gen Z workers expect to be promoted at least once a year, according to The Workforce Institute. That might seem absurd to the old guard, but there’s an upside to that relentless ambition: sky-high engagement and a powerful work ethic.
3. Play Well With Others. Closed doors are out. They want leaders who are with them, communicating, listening and removing impediments. They want leaders to understand them as individuals and build an environment that allows them to do their best work.
4. Cultivate Inclusion. Empathy is in. Big-picture thinking, creativity and empathy aren’t fuzzy ideals; they are must-have skill that project managers need to succeed in The Project Economy. And nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of millennials say they’d look to leave an organization that doesn’t share key values on diversity and inclusion, according to Deloitte.
5. Lead With Purpose. Win at all costs is out. Younger people are less comfortable working for a company that doesn’t share their values, placing a premium on organizations that find a way to deliver financial results and serve the social good. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. millennials said they’ve chosen to work at an organization because of its sustainability measures, according to a Swytch survey.
6. Iterate Everything. Feedback is in. With an iterative mindset about everything, they tend to get impatient when there’s no follow-up after a completed task. They see any gap in the feedback loop as a missed opportunity to course-correct and improve work in that moment. And they’re especially interested in project data and performance analytics.
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That's a great idea! Um ... how are we going to do it? Innovative thinking is a wonderful asset to any organization, one that should be encouraged and supported. But it's more wonderful when the great ideas get translated into tangible value.
The fact is, most cool concepts quickly go cold for want of the ways and means to execute them. All those dirty details that turn vision into reality, strategy into results — that's where project leadership comes in. But unfortunately, that's also where it often exits.
Yes, most organizations realize the importance of strong project management practices. And many have invested in project management offices, tools and training. Still, many of these same organizations see project after project continue to veer off track. Sure, some goals are achieved, but others aren't. Savings are realized here, but how much is wasted there? What's the problem, who's to blame? After all, the strategy was sound, the idea was great. It had to be poor execution that caused the project to come up short!
But time and again, it is not poor execution that is the cause of project failure. It’s not misguided strategy, either. It is the separation of strategy from execution that remains the great operational divide in the business world. This missing link leaves us spinning our competitive wheels, while frustrating the very people — the project managers and teams members — who are expected to deliver the results.
And barring extreme good fortune or superhuman efforts, projects will continue to fail until the strategic planning and the project managing are meaningfully integrated.
It isn't easy. Project teams — agile, traditional or hybrid — still operate in a vacuum all too often. Individuals focus on their own challenges and deadlines, not the big-picture vision or bold idea. And why would they if they don't participate in the development — or at the very least, the validation and refinement — of those ideas? No, if they're only asked to get things done, then only "things" will get done.
Project managers can't single-handedly bridge the disconnect caused by hierarchal power-hoarding; it’s embedded in many corporate cultures. But you don't have to be helpless victims. There are ways to get on the executive radar, and they don't all require becoming a radical outcast. In preparing your next progress report, take a second look to see if you are solely addressing your issues (however valid they may be), but not the issues keeping your bosses awake at night. Talk up customer value and financial metrics, then reframe them in terms that relate to your team's day-to-day reality.
Sure, project management is about getting things done on time, on budget and to scope. But it should be about one more thing: context. You and your team live that context as much as any executive does — often more so.
Companies will not succeed without engaged, motivated project teams — and that starts with the project leader — the living, breathing link between innovation and value, strategy and execution.