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I just spent a week at the beach with my family, which included five millennials and two gen Xers. One of the millennials is an HR professional. One of the gen Xers is a small business executive; the other is an entrepreneur. The other millennials run the gamut from budding comedian to professionals in training.

Millennials have overtaken the boomer generation, and now make up the largest group of workers. Some might say they are a harder group of people to manage since they don’t seem to respond well to money. Others think they are a spoiled group, and the corporate world’s need for their technology skills has worsened the situation.

I am starting to get a little tired of the negativity around managing millennials. What I’m much more interested in are solid management techniques that work in a knowledge economy. This blog offers four project management observations from a few family conversations about how millennials want to be managed.

Develop a compelling “why?” statement.

Millennials are more interested in purpose than money. Give them a mission that engages them and they will soar. Why is that idea so remarkable? Shouldn’t we all be more interested in doing something with purpose? Isn’t it time for the 1980’s greed approach to bite the dust?

When one of my millennails didn’t quickly jump to cook the corn while the genXer was happy to throw together the salad, I laughingly remarked that this was classic millennial management – if you don’t give them a reason to act, don’t expect action.

Understand what ‘done’ means. Or maybe not?

When Dad says, will you shuck the corn, does that mean that you need to get the corn from the husks to the table, with butter and Old Bay on the side? Does it simply mean that you get rid of the husks and leave the silk laden corn in a sink of water? Should it mean that you remove all of those pesky silks and leave the corn on the counter? Might it mean that you add sugar to the boiling water?

How many executives have you seen ask a young worker to do something little, hoping that they will own the problem? How many times has that worked? When it does work, the executive is likely to notice, and find a way to groom that employee as someone with significant promise.

Sometimes, being vague about what ‘done’ means allows individuals to explore creative solutions, to great benefit.

The problem occurs when a client is paying for the work. When a client is paying, it likely makes more sense to understand exactly what the client wants and leave the creative discovery to in-house projects.

Closing a project means writing performance appraisals on the team.

Millennials seem to hate the notion of the annual review and prefer the always monitoring and reviewing approach. Good for them. The annual review was never an effective management approach in a project world.

I understand the need for a periodic performance appraisal that is documented in the personnel file. In a project-oriented operation, it makes more sense to do them at the end of each project. So project managers and project sponsors need to add that to their list of things to do when closing out a project.

Project management is about leadership.

Different teams require different kinds of management styles. Some people are self-starters; others need more motivation. Some teams are loaded with great team chemistry. Others may suffer from the impact of difficult individuals, lower motivation, or musical chairs.

It is the job of the project manager to understand what kind of leadership is needed. Sometimes, that means coaching a team through difficult times. Other times, that means setting direction and staying out of the way. Occasionally, the project may require a firmer hand.

From a project management standpoint, I’m generally a believer in building a management process that enables teams to thrive. The exception to this is when I have a team that works together all of the time, or will be in the future. In that case, I typically opt for letting them build the process.

Components of that management process might include:

  • Regular and frequent standing meetings – which provide a place for teams to celebrate progress and be held accountable.
  • A clear understanding about responsibilities, deadlines, and scope – this helps reduce misunderstandings.
  • Appropriate management of risks, issues, key deadlines, quality objectives, procurement contract requirements, money, communications, and lessons learned – this is the management part of project work.
  • Frequent interactions with the client(s) – this helps build accountability and a clear understanding of what constitutes client satisfaction. In a rapidly changing environment, even the most stable of clients will periodically need to pivot.

The point is to establish a process that works, and then, get out of the way. Whether you are managing millennials or baby boomers, having a management process that works is essential. Let me know if you need some help.