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Project Managing Millennials

Read about millennial talent in the workplace and you’ll walk away with some negative impressions: entitled, narcissistic, demanding, easily bored without promotion, disorganized without structure and disturbed without flexibility. You’ll form a picture of twenty-something college grads with permanently affixed earbuds who spend their days dreaming about parties and planning vacations. These millennials — born from the early 80s through the early 2000s — have flooded the business world over the last decade; it’s more-and-more likely that your team will include a few. So how do you handle this challenging group of young professionals? Start by dismissing your prejudged notions.

Millennials are different from the workers that came before them and that’s all right.

In decades past America’s youth entered the workforce and spent years in the background, assisting here and supporting there. But most millennials are eager to be heard and want to lead right away. They have ideas for making a project better and a vision for a more productive workplace. While it feels easier to guide a team of role players, it’s the outspoken contributors that make good outcomes better.

The days of turning on your computer at 8:30 and shutting it down at 5:00 are all but gone. Customers expect instant responses and 24/7 support changing how, and when, we work. Older employees adapt but their evolution comes with some resistance. Millennials were born into the age of the ‘always on’ employee — iPhone’s with corporate email, late night coding sessions and early morning, bicoastal conference calls. To them it feels natural to run a morning meeting from home, commute into the office, leave around 3:00 and work through the night. You don’t stop working, you just take breaks.

Many young professionals identify themselves by their careers; provide opportunities and flexibility and they’ll put in extra hours and effort to make projects successful.

Give millennials the same respect you show any other team member.

People complain that millennials feel entitled. In most cases, it’s a mischaracterization. They want to be acknowledged and appreciated but not simply for showing up to the office. When someone does good work make sure you recognize it, whether a 25 or 55 year old made the contribution. Employees deserve — and crave — positive and critical feedback, both “in the moment” and during planned check-ins.

Appreciate your team enough to thank them for great individual performances. Often times a simple “thank you” email or quick lunch is enough. Help strugglers improve before the project, and their reputation, suffers. And remember it’s not acceptable to demean or disrespect someone who falters on the job — lead with grace, tact and style.

Do millennials speak up in meetings more than you’re used to? Probably. You might feel it’s out of place, that senior personnel are the ones who should openly speak up. The veterans are the ones with experience after all. But kind, honest discussion — by all teammates — creates a fruitful environment and a stronger project outcome. Challenge others and allow yourself to be challenged. It raises everyone’s game.

Managing millennials will make you a better leader.

You deal with project calamities on a daily basis. Angry clients, late software cycles, bloated budgets and stressful team dynamics. Project managers wrangle all that — and much more — while leading the team across the finish line. You personally don’t code, test, design, draft, manufacture or construct. Your job is to plan, shape, guide, communicate, coordinate and manage. And that interpersonal stuff is difficult no matter the generation you’re dealing with.

Everyone comes with their own idiosyncrasies but all of them, even the millennials, can be led. Your job as project manager is to learn everything you can about each of your team members and do things to get the most from each of them. Lead people not age groups. Find out what makes each person tick — a cup of coffee, a work-free weekend, a pat on the back. And challenge individuals to perform as a team for the betterment of themselves, the project and the company. Show them why the work matters.

Managing millennials isn’t a particularly difficult task if you’re willing to adapt your style and lead the right way.