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Managing millennials: A project manager’s guide

Managing millenials - a guide for project managers

What you’ve been told about managing millennials is wrong.

Unless you’ve had your head stuck in the sand, you’re probably seen ‘that’ video from Simon Sinek, a leadership consultant who’s been doing the rounds espousing his views on millennials, those crazy kids born in the 80’s and 90’s. While I don’t agree with everything he says about the responsibilities of employers vs individuals, his discussion around the importance of human connection is what nails it for me.

Relationships are the key to effective management.

Is the self-obsessed millennial actually a building block for success?

Millennials get a bad rap for being impatient, entitled, arrogant, and self-centered. Of course, there will be cultural differences in generations. But these differences are better understood if you understand that Millennials are a generation with an innate desire to make a difference and have an impact on the world around them. If you re-frame this desire as an expression of motivation for purpose and professional growth, the ‘issues’ can become building blocks for success.

There are cultural differences between people raised in Poland and elsewhere. There are cultural differences between people raised in Tokyo and elsewhere. So would you support the suggestion that ethnic heritage has a bearing on how you manage a person? While cultural differences are not irrelevant in understanding what makes someone tick, it should not influence how you manage a person’s productivity and performance.

If you paint broad groups of people with the same brush, you miss the opportunity to understand the behaviors and needs of the individual.

Older generations grew up with a much stronger cultural construct of hard work and compartmentalization. Ideas like, “I don’t have to love my job. I do it to support my family.” doesn’t mean they don’t care. In fact, I’m sure most do care. It’s just not a part of their social construct to express it as liberally as younger generations. If properly managed, these motivations can be better focused. Yes, older generations are probably easier to manage because they are less likely to express their needs and desires as individuals. Instead, they tend to act in more heads down fashion.

Re-imagine management

What passes as “management” in most modern businesses today needs a major re-tooling. This would not only serve our younger generations better but would provide a deeper sense of purpose and job satisfaction to all team members. Young and old.

Boomers, Millenials, X-ers, Z-gens. We all need to understand the purpose of our work. What role do we play in the larger picture and how our contribution impacts the results. These are things that Millenials express more than previous generations, but to suggest that earlier generations don’t care about the same things does a disservice to a large group.

If you’re managing your staff correctly, it should not matter when they were born. If they feel they are being treated with respect and their contribution is being recognized, you can expect a higher level of engagement regardless of their age or demographic. Individuals have different strengths and weaknesses usually based on motivations and natural behaviors. If you adapt your management to the individual based on those motivations and behaviors you will both find more success.

Use metrics to measure impact

Metrics can be very powerful in helping to measure work. This measure works as a manager, but it can be equally powerful as a measure of personal contribution for the staff member. Many of us work in the knowledge economy and pointing at your work and saying, “Look. I made that.” Can be tough for many of us. That psychological satisfaction is important to us understanding our contribution. When metrics are used properly as a collaborative tool between staff and management they can be a powerful measure of work. It gives the manager an objective sense of what the individual is contributing, freeing them from having to use antiquated measures like how much time a person spends at their desk. As well it gives the staff member something specific to strive towards and achieve.

Manage by influencing future behavior

Junior managers tend to focus on what a team member has done. Instead, managers need to focus on what staff will be doing. Our focus tends to draw towards the negative. It seems somehow more observable. Negative feedback plays a role in management, but positive re-enforcement of a behavior is much more effective at producing the desired future behavior. If someone says to you, “Don’t think of a red elephant.” It’s really hard to keep that image out of your head. In a similar fashion, it’s not effective to tell people what you don’t want to happen in the future.

Catch people doing something right

Here a couple of examples of effective positive feedback. “When you submit your summary for review before the deadline, it shows that you are prepared and keeps us on track. Thanks for that.” “When you show up to our weekly meetings with notes on topics we need to cover, it keeps us focused. Keep up the good work.” Focus your feedback on encouraging the behaviors you want to see repeated in the future. This approach has a secondary positive effect in making the staff member feel encouraged.

Project manage your team of individuals

Project managers are in a unique management position. Project managers are typically accountable to the results of a team but are not the day to day managers of the team members. Not having this role power over the team seems to make it more difficult to influence them. Instead of this being a problem it can be leveraged as an opportunity to change your relationship with your project team. Engage them as individuals, understand what influences their behavior. Play to those behavioral patterns and provide feedback. Nurture your relationship with your team and engage them as individuals. Harness their motivations and target that energy towards the goals using metrics and feedback. This approach will produce better results regardless of when the team members were born.

Manage expectations

Millenials may have a higher expectation of advancement in their career. Instead of seeing this as an annoyance or an impediment, take on the challenge to rise to these new expectations. Re-tooling your management practices will benefit everyone you supervise as a result. In cases where a team members demands or expectations are outrageous, utilize metrics to help quantify their results. Helping them to see their input and progress in an objective fashion can help facilitate a conversation about their value. Help them to manage the basics of their role and meet expectations before demanding a promotion or a raise. Then use feedback and coaching to help them understand their career path. This collaborative relationship provides a great deal of job satisfaction for your staff and you.

Todd Kane

About Todd Kane

Todd leads Evolved Management and has spent over a decade creating a management framework that has resulted in massive value for the companies he has work with. Millions in higher margin projects/operations, millions in saved cash reducing employee turnover, massive increases in team morale. His work has been recognized with numerous awards, both technical and business.

Todd has led groups for several of largest and high growth companies in western Canada. Experience with major businesses like EnCana, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, WestJet, Bell Canada, Long View Systems, and Fully Managed.

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