Paul Butler | ‘It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)’

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile
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Do you ever find yourself with a tune stuck in your head all day? This happened to me recently with the song: “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” by Fun Boy Three and Bananarama from 1982. That’s not only a lifetime ago but also in the days of my mullet.  

Why was this simple song stuck in my mind? Well, it occurred to me recently that it isn’t just what we do for work but the way in which we do our work that gets results. This was demonstrated to me recently when I sought out a new dentist. I had a very good check-up with the dentist — he was friendly and efficient. He was on time and clear on what I needed to have done. It was from this point onward that I had, forgive the pun, a bad taste in my mouth. The administrative services provided by his reception team were pretty dreadful — inaccurate information provided in an untimely manner, wrapped up in broken promises and a lack of follow-through. With so many other choices, I chose not to use this particular dentist because of the way in which his office functioned. 

I also remember working with two colleagues, Sophie and Kevin, who did the same work but did it very differently. They were both management accountants on our international finance team. They were both accurate providers of information. They were both timely in providing reports and they were both about the same age. The difference came in how they did their work. Sophie was always miserable, low-energy and sarcastic. Conversely, Kevin was always positive, friendly and optimistic. Getting something from Sophie was like pulling teeth (again a dentist metaphor!), whereas Kevin volunteered to make you a cup of tea while you waited.  

One of my top 50 reasons to live in California is In-N-Out burger! As their ads say: “That’s what a hamburger’s all about.” I do think, hands down, their patties and fries are a much better-quality product than any of their competitors, but I think it’s more than just the product. In-N-Out seems to have processes and procedures that excel and yet, I think it’s even more than that. I believe their secret sauce is wrapped up in their people.  

I visited with their now retired Director of Training Jack Ruley a few years back. I was astounded by how much they pour into their young employees, who may only be with them for a short period of time. Jack explained how they saw they had a noble responsibility to help shape young men and women to respect themselves and to treat others in a manner in which they themselves would want to be treated. In-N-Out University in Baldwin Park teaches not only how to make a great burger but also how to provide remarkable service and to be a good person.  

I remember my mom and dad giving me similar sage advice as a 13-year-old about to head out on my first newspaper route: “Paul, do your work to the very best of your ability.” It took a few decades for me to understand the principle on which this advice was built upon, but in those wonder years in-between, their advice served me well.  

Whether it was washing dishes in my first hotel job or conducting a financial review as a regional director some 17 years later, I could always hear the wisdom of my parents and the melodious earworm: “Tain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it and that’s what gets results.” At the back of my mind, I knew this was a tune from yesteryear but after a bit of research, I found out this was first recorded in 1939 and sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald.  

So, there’s nothing new under the sun — this isn’t about 1939 or 1982 — this is about timeless principles of how to be of service to others. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a dentist, a management accountant or a burger joint — we are called to ultimately be of service to each other, in this one wonderful life.  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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