Or… Painters Like Cash
I’m a man that knows how to show appreciation. This past Christmas, I got my wife a supercharged stun gun and a fancy purse designed for women who like to conceal a revolver in their handbag. The year before that, I got her a can of pepper spray and a switchblade. And the year before that, I gave her brass knuckles and a 24″ wrench to guard herself against felonious assaults. She always asks for frivolous things: jewelry, a larger home, a newer car, a date night that doesn’t end with her crying in embarrassment. But she never asks for anything she actually needs.
My wife is a saint. She tolerates me being a morning person. She just rolls her eyes at my innocent philandering. When I stroll in at midnight singing old cowboy songs at the top of my lungs, she pretends to be asleep instead of clocking me with that 12-pound wrench. And after 16 years, she’s finally stopped grumbling about our ill-fated first date. (I’d just cracked up my wheels and thought it would make sense to have my ex give us a ride to the local pizza joint. Ever the gentleman, I invited my former paramour to dine with us. I was 19. Rationale wasn’t my forte.) She once saw me at my best and she frequently sees me at my worst. But she’s stuck with me through it all and I appreciate it. She deserves nice things.
You’re probably thinking, This guy sucks at gift-giving, right? Well, my gifts of self-defense tools may not be glamorous but they’re practical. They show I care. They say, “Baby, I want to make sure you’re around for years to come to help me put out the fires I always seem to start.”
Practicality isn’t always attractive but it’s important. It helps protect your significant other, it shows you put a great deal of thought into your Christmas shopping at the military surplus store, and it lets people know you recognize their most immediate needs. It’s important in personal relationships and it’s equally important in business.
Is That a Wrench in Your Pocket?
I worked for a painter who liberally dispensed criticism but was a notorious miser with praise. It was confusing to a young fella relatively new to the trade. I remember painting a corner board and cutting against these raggedy, decaying cedar shingles. I amazed myself that day. My corner board was on par with Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. The precision in my residential masterpiece would undoubtedly be talked about for centuries. I mean, this was the pinnacle of house painting!
Or maybe not. When Bossman came around, he looked at my handiwork and muttered, “It’s okay, I guess.” A crushing defeat. When my very best was deemed “okay” (“I guess”) I didn’t know if I was doing a decent job or not. (The uncertainty led to years of therapy, stress-eating, and self-doubt, greatly delaying my venture into the business world.)
But I get it. You don’t heap praise on someone for doing what you’re paying them to know how to do. They’re professionals, big boys and big girls. You shouldn’t have to give them a sticker every time they cut a straight line or satisfactorily roll an interior wall. But you also shouldn’t minimize their efforts.
Showing that you value your employees should be a no-brainer but there’s a little more to it than that. Appreciation is important but displaying it in a practical manner is paramount.
Show Them the Money!
A couple nights before Christmas I was at the pub (imagine that!) talking to a carpenter about my star employee. I was telling him how this particular painter was fast becoming my right hand man, someone I could trust to keep things running if I ever went on a deep sea fishing trip or luxury cruise or extended bender. The carpenter made an offhand remark about an Employee of the Year award and I remembered that brief snippet of conversation the next morning. I made numerous calls about having a 3″ brush in his favorite brand dipped in bronze and attached to an engraved marble base, a memento to display between his Patriots pigskin and team-signed Red Sox baseball.
Trophies are a fine thing for the little league player. Same for the bowling champ and the reigning king of “club soda” consumption. And what professional decorator wouldn’t love to have a painting trophy? I got a quote and was about to place an order when the obvious occurred to me: It’s kind of stupid to spend five hundred dollars on this elaborate trophy to recognize this guy’s outstanding service. What if I just gave him the cash and a thank you?
He would have liked the trophy. He would have laughed when I presented it to him, and it would’ve looked good on his mantel. But it wasn’t practical. It didn’t address his immediate needs. He didn’t need a chuckle or an award—he needed to pay his mortgage.
One thing I’ve learned in business is the undeniable fact that workers prefer cold hard cash to decadent novelty items. The most dedicated, hard-working employees—those that seem to have a vested interest in maintaining your sterling reputation—still expect to be paid for their efforts. All the praise in the world won’t keep them from jumping ship if they’re not prospering.
I try to learn from the triumphs and failures of others, particularly past employers. From the painter I worked for as a young man, I learned the value of offering positive reinforcement. He never did, so I make a conscious effort to give someone a pat on the back and tell them how great everything looks. And from an employer I worked for during one of my occupational change-ups, I took away the importance of monetary compensation. He believed in making sure his guys could pay their bills. A slap on the back and a “good job” is nice but the employee is a whole lot happier when those positive affirmations are accentuated with a little extra jingle in their pocket.
We all know happy, motivated workers translate to larger profits for the business owner. I consider myself a good guy to work for, but I never stop trying to show how much I value my crew and their efforts. When they’ve spent the day swinging brushes in the heat, the club sodas after work are on me. I frequently offer incentives for finishing a job ahead of schedule. When I first started out, I immediately implemented a plan that gave a quarterly gratuity based on hours worked. And of course there’s the Christmas Bonus. Like my wife, they’ve stuck with me through thick and thin, and I like to show my appreciation.
Some professionals scoff at the idea of cash incentives. One contractor made the mistake of mocking the rumors of my business model to one of his painters, saying I was trying to buy loyalty. (Well, obviously!) I probably don’t need to tell you what happened next, but I will. That painter saw me at the local beer store and asked for a job. I told him to give his notice and come see me in two weeks. A month later, another guy abandoned the same sinking ship and floated on a door for two weeks before boarding the USS Gatcomb. They’ve been sailing with me ever since.
I’m Not a Trophy Husband
I considered commissioning a Wife of the Year trophy for the missus. Instead, I’ll just stick with paying for her summer vacation. It’s become an annual tradition. I give her a big wad of cash, make sure she has her pepper spray and giant wrench, and then she and her bestie take off to ram the roads and buy frivolous things in Vermont or tax-free New Hampshire. Me, I spend the lonely week working 18-hour days and going straight to bed when I get home (i.e. “knocking off early to hang out at the local honkytonk until closing time”). But it’s all good…and practical. That big wad of cash is a token of my appreciation, a testament to how greatly I value her.
I’m sure she’ll remember it the next time I stroll in at 1:00 AM singing “I’m An Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande)”. Instead of condemning me to the matrimonial purgatory known as The Couch, my saint of a wife will just smile and welcome me home. Hopefully. There is the distinct possibility that she’ll pull out that practical stun gun and send 20 million volts of current through me…but that wouldn’t be very saintly.
Erick Gatcomb is the owner of Gatcomeb Painting and Design in Hancock, ME.