This post originally appeared on Fortune.
Under normal circumstances, it’s probably not a good idea to take career advice from ‘70s hard rockers. In this case, however, it might be worth making an exception.
In their heyday, Van Halen was famous for an ingenious quality-control tactic. Buried deep within the group’s 53-page tour contract was a stipulation that their backstage green room be supplied with M&M’s – in all colors exceptbrown. If the band discovered a brown M&M, they’d reportedly go nuts and skip the gig entirely. Their logic: if their contractors didn’t read the fine print when it came to candy, how could they possibly be trusted to set up their elaborate, often dangerous, stage shows.
For employees looking to impress a new boss, there’s a not-so-subtle lesson here: sweat the small stuff. Little things can make a big difference when making a first impression. With that in mind, here are five slightly unconventional, sometimes overlooked, ways to make a splash with your new boss.
(Disclaimer: Just like lead singers – think Sammy Hagar vs. David Lee Roth – no two bosses are exactly alike. While following these suggestions might wow me, they should be applied judiciously.)
Keep emails short and sweet
Over the years, I’ve trained myself to write three-sentence emails (a concept expounded here), leaving out the fluff and keeping only the most essential points. It saves my time and it saves the reader’s time. Whenever I get a long email from a new employee, I ask myself if things could have been expressed more concisely. He or she has spent a lot of their own time composing it and now it’s consuming a lot of my time, as well, since I have to read it. And time is often a boss’s most valuable commodity. Rather than send long emails, save more substantial communication for a phone call or meeting.
Treat my assistant better than me
Recently, we had various people applying for a high-level sales role. After checking in with my executive assistant, I was surprised to find out that many candidates who had been personable and courteous to me were downright rude to her. The ability to work well with others is a skill that’s critical in any role. I’m constantly assessing how new hires treat co-workers, clients, even strangers. Civility, courtesy and genuine caring are traits bosses often value highly because they lead to a more harmonious and productive team.
Walk out of a meeting
I love it when employees walk out of a group meeting. Why? Meetings are, by nature, inefficient. Some agenda items are resolved in minutes while others run on forever. Topics that are critical for some group members might be completely irrelevant to others. The solution: stand up and excuse yourself when you’re no longer gaining value. I’d rather have my employees making good use of their time than sitting around politely listening to information they can’t use. Now, not all bosses are going to see things this way. But to the right boss – the productivity hacker who’s always looking for ways to boost efficiency – this tactic can speak volumes.
Use social media at work
According to a 2014 study, 36% of employers report that they block social media at work. Why they’d ever do a thing like that is beyond me. Social media is – at its heart – a communication and productivity tool that’s just as useful in the boardroom as it is in the dorm room. In the office, it can play a role not just in marketing and sales efforts, but in improving internal dialogue and keeping lines of communication open. When I see new employees making good use of platforms like Facebook and Twitter or business-minded social networks like Yammer or even new apps I’ve never heard of, I’m anything but disappointed. These employees are often pushing the company to communicate faster and more efficiently.
Fail at something
There are two types of failure – failure due to incompetence and failure due to ambition. A good boss recognizes the difference between the two and respects employees who fail for the latter reason. I have great admiration for people who bite off more than they can chew – who take on projects that may be too big or too ambitious. And I don’t hold it against them should things not turn out as planned. Without risk, after all, it’s hard for any company to move forward. Steve Jobs knew this well. While Apple is revered for the iPhone and MacBook, less remembered are the many products that fell totally flat, like the Apple Lisa, the Apple III and the Powermac g4 cube. A good boss knows that failure and innovation are two sides of the same coin.