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Motivating Millennial Generation Project Workers
By Arindam Das, PMP
The number of projects getting executed in India has grown exponentially over the past decade. The proportion of young people in the age group of 21-25 is high in these projects, especially in sectors like IT and telecom. However, the project success rate is not so impressive. A big question that we must ask ourselves is whether our traditional techniques to motivate and maximize the productivity of our teams work well with the new generation.

All the four processes in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) HR Management Knowledge Area, viz., Human Resource Planning, Acquire Project Team, Develop Project Team, and Manage Project Team, take into consideration the role of motivation for higher performance. While the relevance of theories like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Herzberg’s hygiene-motivation theory has not diminished, we need to understand the psychology, upbringing, and the way new generation team members view life to refine our approach to team motivation.

The millennial generation (broadly defined as youngsters born in the last two decades of the 20th century) who have joined the workforce in the past few years grew up in a rising, competitive Indian economy. The factors that have shaped the generational behavior[1] of these youngsters are: social factors like change in demographics and cultural values, family factors like nuclear families and working mothers, economic factors like availability of funds and better living standards, and lastly, technology factors like communication gadgets and the Internet. We find that this generation of the workforce is more collaborative than the previous ones, has less respect for rigid structures yet less sceptical of the system, wants to make decisions and experiment, is technology-savvy, and lives in a virtually connected world.

In a project situation, this calls for revisiting the motivators that project managers have traditionally deployed. Some of the essential elements project managers and leadership teams should focus on are:

  1. Reinforce the positives: Millennials need constant affirmation and the project manager should tell his/her millennial team members how he/she appreciates their inputs, like their thinking or their effectiveness in execution. If this is done without flattery, it will make them feel needed and valued.[2]

  2. Get a buy-in on project objectives and plan: Millennials do not like to be mere order-takers. They want to be part of something bigger and a buy-in can significantly improve their sense of ownership and productivity.

  3. Recognize individuality: One size does not fit all with millennials and to get the best results out, it is essential to treat each one differently, especially when it comes to rewarding them for their work.

  4. Allow ownership and creativity: The millennials’ feelings of entitlement can be met by providing them with a sense of responsibility: define areas that they can “own” so they can leverage their knowledge, expertise, and decision-making ability. Being a “boss” is less effective as they mostly need a mentor/coach.

  5. Support flexibility: Millenials do not like rules as they grew up in an environment where consensus was the rule, with everyone participating in decisionmaking. Rigidity of the workplace suffocates them. They expect working flexi-hours, access to social networks, and having fun while working.

The triple constraints of project management may appear to be at risk when we look some of these elements but with a careful and adaptive approach, projects can definitely leverage the skills and abilities of the millennial generation for better performance.

[1] Ashim Gupta. 2011. Motivating the Millennials.
Practical Management.
[2] Michael A. Olguin. 2012. 5 Tips for Managing
Millennial Employees. Inc.

(Mr. Arindam Das, PMP, is principal – business services at a large IT organization in India. Mr. Das has 20 years of industry experience in the areas of IT consulting, software development, and project/program management.)
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