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  • traddanbroad

Exactly is the best word in business...

I have many fond memories of my first real job. I was a dispatcher and Customer Service Representative for a ground expedited trucking company in the late 1980s. At the time it was called Roberts Express, but is what today is known as Fedex Custom Critical. It was all things first jobs should be: challenging, fun, rewarding, frustrating.

It is still, to this day, one of the best company cultures I’ve ever worked in, with a laser focus on customer service, and a remarkable view that people making $6.78 an hour could and should make thousand dollar decisions when it came to protecting service.

The founder of the company was gone by the time I joined, but I remember well a philosophy he was known for. If you wanted the organization to do something differently at Roberts Express—if you had an idea or thought or suggestion—you were encouraged to bring it forth. You would be asked a question. It was attributed to the founder, but it permeated the entire organization back then.

“Great idea. Now, tell me exactly how this will increase customer service?”

A pretty simple question, but also a question that cuts to the chase pretty quickly. If you can’t answer that question, why bring up the suggestion? In the end, it does what great questions often do—focuses you on the important bits, and strips away the superfluous. The word exactly in the sentence is the best part. It seeks precision in the answer. It demands thoughtful contemplation. It doesn’t let you get away with platitudes and empty promises. Exactly.

As I look back on my career, I’m not sure I’ve asked or answered that question enough. I’ve sat in a lot of meetings at great companies, and watched a lot of effort, time and money go towards initiatives that would have failed an honest answer to that question.

Exactly is a powerful word. I think I’m going to use it more going forward.

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