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Topics: Career Development, Change Management, Organizational Culture
Tips on handling a Baby boomer PM when i'm a Gen Y PM
Hi All,

I am with a client-based PM firm in the construction industry, to which I support a baby boomer PM which just knows it all and isn't open to receiving any input to design/ constructability etc.. Also, doesn't see any point in programmes, risk analysis etc. and retains all the information 'up here' (his brain) nor is he open to improvements as a result of me completing my PM studies.

Any tips on how to handle this would be appreciated, especially if they're without 'over-stepping' and creating an uncomfortable environment.

Thanks in advance.
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There is little you can do since you're supporting him. Anything you do that goes against his way of doing things will probably be portrayed as 'overstepping', or dismissed as the foolish notions of an overeager or over ambitious young person. The fact this PM acts as he does suggests that company Management allows him to do so. I suggest you start seeking other employment at a more forward-thinking company.
1 reply by Michael Moffett
Aug 30, 2019 10:17 AM
Michael Moffett
I most certainly agree. When management refusing to do anything, they are actually supporting the behavior. Been there done that and management seems to never change when issues such as this is brought up. Therefore, there is very little you can do but find another place to work.

While you might be from different generations that is not the issue. The issue is his/her personality type and you get this everywhere. Your best weapon is the power of persuasion, by reverse psychology, making somebody think that it is their idea. One of the key things about planting a seed is to never talk about it directly i.e. do not say that he/she should be doing risk management or documenting things but rather casually bring up the topic in conversation. Done right people do what you want them to do while thinking that they were very clever to actually come up with the idea. Easier said than done though and not something everybody can pull off. Children and wives are very good at this :)

More direct methods like escalating over them will definitely create an atmosphere in which you might not want to work but will yield quicker results.

Humans are humans. Exercise empathy, listen, respect, establish trust, be humble.
Labels make not difference.

Rather than try to handle them, figure out times you can demonstrate the skills you bring to the table.

When I first graduated college, I had technology skills that were far more advanced than the first gig I landed where they had decades old ways of doing things. Telling people you know a better way to do it isn't going to get you far if they're already getting along just fine without your help.

Instead find some opportunities to do your part your way even if that means doing it your way and their way, and you can demonstrate the value. Once they see that you bring some insight and skills that provide real value and you don't rub it in, you might get more opportunities to show how your way works.

Difficult situations that are not really related to generational differences in my opinion, but can be accentuated by them or wrongly attributed to them. It's more often about the newcomers wanting to introduce new ideas versus those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Incumbents may see these new ideas as undermining their knowledge and experience, or it could be that they lack any knowledge in these new areas which makes them uncomfortable, or they have simply seen these things tried before and fail etc. There are so many reasons.

If you are there to support the person, then find out what support means to them and support them, then use that to build trust and develop a stronger working relationship over time. Show them that you value their experience and you want to learn from them. Once you have developed a better working relationship then you will find that they will be more open to your ideas.

Highly recommend for you to take a listen to this webinar By Dana Brownlee.
You will definitely gain some valuable insights on how to navigate the present organizational climate or circumstances.

If you were his boss, you could try applying some of the foregoing HR personality psych advice to make him more compatible to fit in with your team.

However, since the roles are reversed, and he is hard-headed -- even without a hard hat -- it is up to you to improve your 'followership' and learn what you can from the situation to apply in the future when you may be the manager. Accept what he has to say -- until you can no longer tolerate his attitude, and/or work results.

If you've already reached that stage, my advice is the same as that Eric Simms gave you (above): seek a new working environment that is willing to appreciate what you can offer now.

I had experienced several such scenarios in my career. Fresh out of university, I was challenged by a much older and more senior co-worker, but he had no engineering degree. It became a very frustrating environment because my superiors sided with him. At one point I had one of my professors review my calculations which he agreed with and stamped with his engineering licence. I never showed that to anyone, except a few close friends at work. At the end of the day, it cost the company it's reputation and millions of dollars in rework and delays. I subsequently left to work with one of the suppliers I had developed a relationship with which was one of the best career moves I had ever made. Later on, as a consultant I ran into a similar personality, but now I was older and more experienced. It took a while, but I was able to slowly win him over because he saw results and value in my advice. We became close, and still keep in touch years after he retired. You win some and lose some.

Another contributing factor might be the industry you are in. I have seen a few domains where the mentality "if it's not broken, don't fix it" is pervasive. Of course, some people adapt this view regardless of their industry, as well.

I completely agree with some of the posts above that the generation gap is not the issue, but if you truly think this is a generational gap misunderstanding, it may be beneficial to empathize with this PM, as one thing that I have read/taken seminars on is that older generations want to be appreciated as well. Some of them notice younger generations come in thinking they know it all, which is not always the case, but there is a stigma of this. If this is where you think the true issue lies, then have a conversation. Get to know how he performs his PM duties and why he thinks change is not needed, this information is not beneficial. Go into the conversation without any bias to how he will react, information he provides, etc. Remember, this is a learning experience for you as well.

One thing you will need to remember though, is that this will be a work in progress. I am not sure how experienced you are in the PM field, but it will take some time for people to get comfortable with new associates as well.
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