The feature story in the March 2007 edition of PM Network, titled “Bridging the Gap”, is a look at some of the differences in style and communication that newer professionals and project managers have compared to veterans. I enjoyed the article and found some points to agree with and some in conflict with my personal experiences.
In the article there is a quote from Dave Davis, PMP, asserting that “the younger generation doesn’t grasp the value of face time and the importance of building a team identity…They avoid social time and group meetings and end up identifying more with the tasks than the team.”
Ouch. I can see how he might be right in some cases, but that seems like an awfully unfair stereotype to level against a whole generation of people. It wasn’t long after I entered the professional world that I realized how important relationships are to getting things done, mostly because I had a mentor who cared enough to kick me in the teeth when I needed it. I remember being told something along these lines:
If you are within walking distance, get off your butt and go talk to them. If that’s not feasible, pick up the phone and call them. Email should only be used for following up, giving technical details, or links and attached files.
That made a lot of sense to me. I’ve tried to live this, although I will admit that sometimes I catch myself after having sent an email, saying “why didn’t I just pick up the phone and call?” I’ve seen this with colleagues too, and I’d say that it seems too many people of all ages almost seem afraid to pick up the phone and call, or walk over and talk something out.
There have been a few times recently where people have come over to my desk and asked what to do with something that came through email. Before I look at it I can predict with fair accuracy that it’s an email chain at least 3-4 responses long, and no one understands each other. At that point I usually say, “It looks like this email has been barbecued. Give them a call.” I have a rule that if it’s more than 2 replies and still needs clarification, it’s time to walk over or pick up the phone.
New communication channels have come about since that sage advice mentioned earlier. Now there are chat, video conferencing, and screen sharing/online collaboration tools to manage. Chat is definitely an area were younger professionals get more benefit if it’s used properly, and older people may not. Most people 30 and under grew up with computers and lots of typing, and we can communicate via chat without much effort. Video conferencing doesn’t seem to be too widely used yet, and if so it’s usually for more formal meetings and not daily/weekly ones. Screen sharing and online collaboration tools are wonderful, especially if you are on the phone too. It can be a great way to present a tool, train, or collaborate on building project plans.
I personally see the opposite trend when it comes to following up on verbal communications with a written summary and/or action plan. I find the more experienced people seem to have a meeting and not send out meeting minutes, action items, etc. Younger and more inexperienced people like myself I would probably give a 50% hit rate on following up properly on meetings. It may be because when I send out status reports or meeting summaries, I use a set of form templates I created myself, and they are not company standard. There are no company templates for status reports or meeting summaries (that I know of). I think younger people are a little more willing to ‘rock the boat’ like that and create their own processes based on the conditions at hand.
In summary, I believe everyone has something to learn and improvements to make, myself included. So if you’re a new professional, go find a geriatric mentor and really listen to what they have to say. Veterans with the scars of battle, go find a young whipper-snapper and show them the ropes, but listen and learn from them too.
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About the author
Josh Nankivel is a Project Planning & Controls Control Account Manager and contractor for the ground system of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a joint project between the USGS and NASA. His academic background includes a BS in Project Management, summa cum laude. He can be found writing and contributing in many places within the project management community, and his primary project management website is located at pmstudent.com.