Back in the early ‘80s, Van Halen was famous for its revolutionary sound and explosive shows. But the legendary rock group was also notorious for its backstage demands. The most infamous: no brown M&Ms. If David Lee Roth discovered even one in his backstage candy stash—so rumor goes—he’d trash the green room, fire the promoter and skip the gig. He even included a no brown M&Ms clause in his contracts.
But there’s actually more to this story than prima donna posturing. As explained by the band, the no brown M&Ms stipulation was deliberately added to Van Halen’s huge 53-page contract for a very specific reason: as a clever test for quality assurance.
After all, Van Halen claims, promoters had to be on the ball to effectively execute their elaborate stage shows. If they missed the brown M&Ms clause, what other key elements could they be skipping over—like lights, staging, and security?
This makes a lot of sense to me. At my company, brown M&Ms can be major disasters waiting to happen. When you have over 5 million users, a minor copyright issue, improperly executed email campaign, or even what seems like a small technical glitch can end up being catastrophic, affecting a lot of clients in a short period of time. The devil is in the details.
Over the years, I’ve found that effective employees are those who take the time to read the fine print. These are the types of people I want on my team, so I can entrust them to prevent catastrophes and keep our products absolutely top-notch.
So here are 3 Van Halen-inspired tactics I like to deploy for employee quality assurance:
1. Ask an unexpected question in the pre-interview stage during hiring. Sometimes, we throw an unconventional request into a job description like, “Please list three websites you visit often.” Candidates who overlook it or don’t provide a full answer aren’t worth interviewing.
Why? People are on red-alert and tend to be the most thoughtful during this initial stage of the job application process. If they can’t pay attention to details here, how will they perform once they’re hired? I’ve found this test to be an important workflow hack and time-saver for myself and busy HR staff.
2. Play the email pingpong game. When an employee sends me an email with a request or idea, I’ll ‘volley’ it back, telling the person to bring it up at the next meeting I’ll have with them. Then at the meeting, I’ll check to make sure the items are on the agenda. If not, it’s clear the employee didn’t read the fine print and is thus ill-prepared. I’ve found that after being caught out once, people will come prepared in the future.
It’s about accountability. Rather than just nodding their heads and smiling along, effective team members should actually follow up.
3. Have an end-of-meeting pop quiz. At end of a meeting, I wrap up by asking attendees a simple question: “So, what are your action items?”
This seems like meeting 101, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who smile, say yes and nod affirmatively to assignments in a meeting, but then get to the end and don’t remember what they are managing. Very rarely has anyone in this situation successfully recounted their action items 100% correctly. After going through this hazing process just once, employees are always sure to bring a notebook or laptop the next time. It’s essential that people don’t rely on just memory for meetings. Small and important things can easily be missed or forgotten by the best of us.
Keen attention to detail is a value upheld by leaders of successful companies and super successful rock and roll bands. At my company, I hope it’s something that improves our performance from the top down…and the bottom up.