Millennials and Generation Z, those born since the early 1980s, are bringing fresh perspectives to projects—leveraging technological advancements and drawing heightened focus to economic, ecological and social issues. Learning to work alongside these younger generations isn't optional, as they increasingly dominate the labor force and extend their influence.
Millennials have already arrived: According to Pew Research, this group surpassed Gen X in 2016 and is now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. And, globally, Gen Z isn't far behind. A 2018 Bloomberg analysis found that Gen Z will make up 32 percent of the global population this year—meaning those who aren't already in the workforce will soon be moving into it.
The difference between these generations and older ones isn't merely limited to age. Collectively, millennial and Gen Z workers tend to be open to new opportunities and new technologies, while demonstrating an aversion to hidden agendas, rigid corporate structures and information silos. As the ranks of these younger project managers swell, those differences can fundamentally change organizations’ project management culture.
Organizations that embrace that change, and focus on these young employees and their needs, have the potential to thrive. Others may find they've created a high-churn culture that dampens productivity, quality and service.
Here are three ways to lean into the generational shifts—and reap the rewards:
Technology may make it easier than ever to work remotely—and around the clock. But don't assume that just because project managers can be reached at all hours of the evening, they want to be. In fact, millennials and Gen Z are drawing work boundaries more clearly than other generations, and these boundaries are at odds with the old “all-nighter” mentality of project management deadlines. A 2018 World Services Group global survey of nearly 1,600 young professionals found that work-life balance was the biggest professional priority, more than leadership opportunities or even wealth.
Instead of assuming you'll have 24/7 access to a young project manager, focus on maximizing the productivity they can achieve in eight hours. That probably means you don't want them spending two or three of those hours each day in meetings getting consensus around change requests and scope adjustments. Instead, try to eliminate as much unnecessary bureaucracy as possible. Make an effort to run effective meetings (and encourage and train project managers to do the same), leaving people more time to focus on their tasks. Help employees not to work longer but to work smarter and be more effective.
The young generations excel at collaboration, but they expect tools to keep pace. Static software that doesn't allow collaboration is a dinosaur in their eyes, akin to being asked to fax or update an analog paper-and-pen note system.
Organizations and their project managers need to embrace and support modernized tools that can handle collaborative brainstorming, real-time updates, multiple readers and users, integrated video, voice and more. Integrating those tools into the organization's workflow isn't always easy, nor are the payoffs immediate, but the effort that goes into effective change management can pay off in spades. Also, organizations should routinely survey younger project managers for the new tools and technologies that would allow them to collaborate more quickly or effectively. That signals both that you value their suggestions and that the organization wants to proactively take advantage of the latest tools and tech trends.
Young workers are highly responsive communicators who appreciate the same in their managers and co-workers. Accustomed to having the world's information at their fingertips, they are uncomfortable with silos and hidden agendas. And thanks to the prevalence of real-time chat tools and apps, even a few hours of lag between a question asked and an answer received can feel like eons.
To find a communication style that works for younger project managers—and gels with older generations as well—teams must be willing to talk early and openly about what is expected of team members and what the team's communication norms will be. This may vary significantly by individual initiative, but tailoring the style to the people on the team is the best way to ensure an organization is getting the most out of all of its workers—young and old.
Young project professionals tend to be highly motivated, with an enthusiastic attitude and a deep commitment to the work at hand. Organizations that understand how to harness those positive traits—while integrating these generations seamlessly into the existing workforce—can see immense benefits for projects and people. PM
|Alfonso Bucero, PMI-RMP, PMP, PfMP, PMI Fellow, is managing partner at Bucero PM Consulting, Madrid, Spain.|