20 Aug 2020

7 Ways to Prepare Young Project Managers for the Future

Millennials, Future leaders
7 Ways to Prepare Young Project Managers for the Future

If you’re a seasoned professional who has been called upon to mentor, here are seven ways of engaging younger project managers.

Project managers at the peak of their careers have a wealth of experience to draw on. This makes them valuable to organisations but also presents a risk if they do not pass their knowledge on to younger project managers.

The millennial generation, those born between 1984 and 2004, are expected to make up most of the workforce by 2025, bringing a fresh approach to project management and life in general.

Smart organisations will recognise in this the transition from long-established project management culture to a new, more connected way of working.

As a seasoned professional who has been called upon to mentor up and coming new project managers, you may find this change in culture daunting. 

 

1. TRY TO SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE

Where previous generations used a fixed telephone line to call a physical location, millennials use their mobile phone to call a specific person. As a generation they are more connected and connect more often than those before them.

You can engage with this mindset by leveraging your corporate instant messaging chat services. Build on the informal discussions within the office network.

Regardless of whether they are about pet dogs, or why the coffee was late, these discussions can be used to develop a mentoring relationship. This may feel awkward if you are not a regular user but is a sure way to form connections.

Millennials are also the ‘woke’ generation, more attuned to social issues and are more likely to be involved in activism. When you help young project managers to understand the greater purpose in projects they are delivering, you can improve their engagement with stakeholders.

 

2. AVOID BLIND SPOTS

“The kids of today…” is the dismissive catchcry heard all too often from older mentors. As a mentor you may be aware of common cognitive biases like groupthink and ingroup favouritism. However, by reducing the next generation to a cliché, you are exhibiting another cognitive bias known as romanticising the past. Try to see past this and encourage the inherent potential of the next generation.

Not that millennials don’t suffer from their own cognitive misperceptions. Two that regularly occur are digital amnesia - not remembering something because they can find it on the web; and automation bias – in which people rely on machine decisions, such as the spelling checker, without carrying out common sense checks.
 

3. PROVIDE FREQUENT FEEDBACK

This is a generation that is used to instant messaging and receiving ten answers overnight to a question posted online. Millennials may not perceive the value in performance feedback that you only provide once or twice a year. Keep your mentees engaged with regular informal feedback that provides relevant, actionable information.

You can achieve this by scheduling informal catchups in a safe setting that enables honest communication. The value of an offsite cup of coffee or lunch is not to be underestimated.
 

4. BUT ENCOURAGE TRADITIONAL COMMUNICATION

Regardless of age, all senior executives have their own preferred communication style. For the always on, connected generation, having to speak in meetings or write business cases can come as a bit of a shock.

Guide young mentees through the exercise of learning how to communicate with other people who may not rely on online media. You can do this by using your position within the organisation to empower them to succeed. It may be necessary for you to facilitate conversations between the mentee and a senior manager because the mentee lacks the soft skills needed to manage upwards.
 

5. CHALLENGE THEM TO PERFORM

Being young and overconfident is not specific to the millennials, every generation thinks they know better when they are starting out in their careers. The cynicism you may experience about this youthful optimism can be brought to your advantage by becoming the voice of reason.

When you encounter an enthusiastic young project manager with grand ambitions, challenge them to prove themselves while providing them with the space to achieve their goals.
 

6. LEARN FROM THEM

The younger generation is likely to be well versed in social media, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation as well as any other up-and-coming technology. Unless you are keeping up with new technology, you won’t understand as much as these young people about these subjects.

Treat the new knowledge as an exercise in reverse mentoring where the mentee teaches you new technical skills. This not only updates your industry knowledge but also helps to develop your working relationship with your mentee.
 

7. VIEW MENTORING AS LONG TERM

Do you remember being in your twenties? It’s a time when most of us were unsure about the world and our place in it. Times have not changed; the answers to some of life’s questions remain the same, but by default, millennials turn to Google for answers.

Unfortunately, online search results cannot instil an understanding of your company culture. Consider mentoring to be the start of a long-term relationship. Your aim is to develop an ongoing conversation that helps your mentee develop what they need to succeed.

Helping your mentee navigate internal company politics and career related issues cements your working relationship and helps to promote internal company values.

 

Carleton Chinner is Managing Director of MagniStrat, a Brisbane based management consultancy with a comprehensive focus on project management practice. He is well known in the project management community as a successful project management consultant, speaker, and author of project management articles.