DISCLAIMER: I am in no way qualified to give advice on how to run a team. I don’t have an MBA from a fancy Ivy League School. I was educated at a State University. I have no track record of successfully running teams. This is merely my own personal philosophy. Take it or leave it.
For as long as I can remember, my mom has been an elementary school teacher. Almost every Saturday, I remember going to the local Utah-Idaho School Supply, watching my mom load up a basket of supplies that she would ultimately purchase with money out of her own pocket. When I was younger, it didn’t bother me too much as I was the recipient of cool sticker books every time we went to purchase supplies for the classroom but as I got older, I became confused on why she was doing this. I never asked my mom ‘why’ but as I saw how the kids in her class were learning and the experiences they were receiving, compared with other classes, the ‘why’ became apparent.
I knew the budgets for school teachers were very tight but I also knew that my mom was dedicated to giving the kids she taught experiences that would stay with them for a lifetime. To her, it was a no-brainer to purchase materials for her classroom out of pocket because she knew that the investment she was making would pay off again and again, over the lifetime of each of the kids she taught.
Whether my mom knew it or not, she was teaching me a very valuable lesson in the process. Right out of college, I found myself buying things for my team out of my own pocket. My colleagues and my bosses would question me on ‘why’ and I never really had an answer, it was just instinctual. A $20 box of donuts here, a technical manual there, software, music, headphones, lunches…it just happened naturally and my team responded with dedication, hard work, and creativity.
I’ve also seen how the flip side of this can be so damaging to team morale. In a previous job, I asked for an iMac rather than the standard Dell issued desktop computer. I didn’t ask because I wanted to be a pain-in-the-ass, I asked because I’ve always used an Apple (In Jr. High School, I wrote my term papers using Bank Street Writer on my Apple IIe) and because there were two iMacs laying around that no one was using. However, my job code dictated that I use a Dell desktop as the iMacs were set aside for employes with a job code that defined them as being in a “creative” position.
Was there software that I needed that only ran on a Mac? No. Was the Mac necessary for me to do my job? No. Would the Mac make me more productive and happier? Hell yes! Had my boss had the flexibility to think outside corporate policy and manage out of pocket, my experience, like the kids in my mom’s 2nd grade class, would have been that much greater.
Managers seem to get caught up in the long term plans of career development, quarterly goals, internal promotions, and corporate process. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are very important but it’s the little things that happen everyday, like managing out of pocket, that have lasting impacts on employees and ultimately make the employee, the manager, and the organization as a whole more successful.