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It Pays to Do the Right Thing

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As an 11-year-old, there wasn’t much on my mind on a typical Saturday morning. I couldn’t wait to get outside and meet up with friends. Then the games––from stickball to bike rides––would begin. But before I could leave the house, there were those dreaded family chores. One was to vacuum the living room rug. I would rush around the room with a vintage 1950s Electrolux as fast as I could. And every time when I thought I was done, my mother would say, “Joey, what about under the couch?” Stomping my feet, I would reluctantly push the couch away from the wall and vacuum the area. Then one day, I built up enough courage to ask her, “Mom, why do I need to vacuum under the couch? No one will know if it wasn’t vacuumed!” My mother replied, “No one but you.”

A few months back I got a call from a friend of mine. He owns a large repair shop and has been in business for nearly 20 years. He has six technicians and two service advisors. After struggling for years trying to find the right people, he finally hired what he considered a qualified team of techs and advisors. Unfortunately, he was wrong. 

He began to tell me about his top tech, we’ll call him Jim. Jim was a master tech with L1 certification. But more than that, he was the highest producer at my friend’s shop. And he did so consistently. But, there was something off about Jim that my friend couldn’t put his finger on. It also became obvious that the other employees really didn’t care for Jim. When another tech needed help, Jim did lend a hand. But he did it with arrogance, and often belittled the person he was helping. 

Then, one day, my friend witnessed something that took him by complete surprise. He watched as Jim checked the front suspension on a Honda Accord and made a recommendation to sell the lower control arms. My friend didn’t see any movement in the suspension, and quietly asked Jim to recheck it. Jim took his pry bar and checked the entire front suspension. No movement was noticed in any component. At this point, my friend took Jim aside and said, “Jim, I hope this was a mistake. There’s nothing wrong with those control arms.” 

According to my friend, Jim did not say a word, but afterward, went up to the advisor and said, “I don’t know why the boss got on my back; I only made a recommendation to recheck the front suspension at the next service.” This shop does digital inspections, and the original record for the multipoint clearly stated: “Lower control arms worn excessively. Recommend replacing now.” Jim was caught in a lie.

Luckily, this was caught before the advisor sold the job to the customer. But the situation bothered my friend. He asked the service advisors if they ever had doubts about what Jim was recommending. The looks on their faces and their silence was a resounding yes.

After my friend finished telling me this story, he said, “Joe, this bothers me, but he is my best producer. He makes a lot of money for the shop. And besides, no one will really know what happened, right?” Thinking back to what my mother once told me, I simply replied, “No one, but you.” 

After a few restless nights, my friend fired Jim. It was a Friday and he felt uneasy about what happened the entire weekend. But then an amazing thing happened on Monday. Everyone was quiet at first, and then little by little, everyone began talking and laughing. The tension that existed with Jim was now gone and was replaced with a higher level of morale. All the sold work for the day that needed to get done was completed, and the day ended on a high note. At one point, one of the service advisors approached my friend and said, “Hey, boss, it’s about time you fired that guy. He was killing everyone!” 

I called my friend the other day to see how things were going. He told me that the other techs stepped up their production, and while no one could produce what Jim could, together they were actually producing more. 

There will always be times when you are faced with a choice to look the other way. And you might even tell yourself, “Who will know?” The truth is, you will, and that’s the only thing that matters. 

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