Thursday, March 11, 2010

Van Halen, Brown M&Ms, and Operational Excellence

Do you have a simple way of testing whether the processes in your company are operating as you expect? Can you tell if people are paying adequate attention to detail?

As readers of this blog know, I'm a fan of the work of Dan and Chip Heath, authors of the best-selling book, Made to Stick. I'm now reading their second book, Switch, and thoroughly enjoying it. I recommend the book for those interested in creating change in their organizations and communities.

In this month's edition of Fast Company, the Heath brothers describe the reality behind the legend of the brown M&Ms that the rock band, Van Halen, used to insist on banning from the backstage area during their concerts. Van Halen's concert contract used to read, "There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation." When people heard of this clause, they considered lead singer, David Lee Roth, and the other band members to be the ultimate divas. Actually, the band had a very different reason for insisting on no brown M&Ms. They put on very elaborate concerts back in the 1980s, and they had very detailed contracts specifying all the equipment and procedures required to operate a successful show for their fans. Within that lengthy contract, Van Halen buried a simple clause banning brown M&Ms from the candy bowls backstage. When the band members arrived at a venue, they would check the bowl. If they found brown M&Ms, they knew that the crew had no paid sufficient attention to detail. They knew to take a closer at the overall operation. What a magnificent little test! Every leader should consider what small signs they can look for to determine whether an organization's detailed operational processes are functioning properly.

5 comments:

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Within that lengthy contract, Van Halen buried a simple clause banning brown M&Ms from the candy bowls backstage.
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