Two of my kids worked in my organization – not directly in my chain, but in an adjacent piece that did Operations for the code that my team wrote. Ops and Engineering classically have “different” types of mindsets, and I had actually been in both, and recognized that trying to close that gap would always be tough. It also provided me an interesting vantage point that I was careful with. In one case I was on a corporate task force to “Improve our focus on Performance” by enhancing our review process. I gently asked one of them about what he had heard: “Oh that… well there is a person our team that is terrible, and as long as she is here, I don’t have to work hard… or worry…”
Van Halen has been playing together relentlessly through most of the 70’s into the mid 80’s. They are releasing an album a year that are literally changing music, moving up the charts with each successive release. By 1984 they were on their 6th album, all of which were at least Platnium, with total sales over $56 Million, two albums over 10 Million each ( their first, and this one released in 1984 ). It meant there was a lot of money flowing through their hands, and into things that may or may not have been helpful. They had a reputation of being a party band, which was very well deserved, and it even entered our vernacular as the stars “… that banned Brown M&Ms”….
… and like many I thought that was crazy…. until I read what was behind it. Their records were coming out typically after a global tour that was bigger, more elaborate, and HEAVIER than the one before. And with the growing interest in the band, they were playing venues like the Boston Garden, the old Toronto Maple Leaf Garden that were never designed for the equipment to put on these amazing live shows. And they would drag into town, do a soundcheck, play, repeat – EVERY night for a year. Their contracts were very comprehensive on the preparation needed for their gear, and for their and the fans safety… and how would they actually know if they had been read. You guessed it… they walked in… and if the M&M’s included Brown ones, they could walk out FULLY PAID as was stipulated in writing…
… they typically didn’t. BUT, they did then do a COMPLETE inspection of everything. Without it, they AND their fans would be put at risk. And to prove the point, Roth would destroy the dressing room – increasing their reputation but also making it clear to the management they meant it. I actually found this detail put into a leadership context in a great blog post summarized: “The snarky comments you tweet on Tuesday can get you fired on Thursday. These little details may seem trivial, but as Van Halen demonstrates, they can be life and death. Develop your own brown M&M’s system that keeps you aware of all of the little details that define you in a big way.”
In our case, we worked hard on messaging, and more importantly, on training and supporting managers to make the hard calls on their teams. I had inherited a team that would carry 10% extra each year so they had people to lay off… which happened every year… so changing that culture was not easy. I knew we were on to something though when my phone rang the other direction… “Dad… they just got rid of that woman. Do I need to step it up?” Yes, in fact, you do. As do you… what are the Brown M&M’s you need to sprinkle through your team to see what is really being executed? Or are you running a little too hot tonight? Make sure you can see the road… featuring Eddie’s Lamborghini – Panama.