Do You Deserve a Raise?

Eliminate the 'I' and focus on your value to the company

by Russ Westcott

There are a million-and-one reasons you might think you should be paid more. Perhaps:

  • Your coworker just got a raise.
  • You learned that your CEO earns 10 times what you do.
  • Your debt is steadily increasing.
  • Your spouse bugs you to ask for a raise.
  • A new person is hired at the same salary as it took you 12 years to reach.
  • The company is making lots of money, but the pay is a lot less than a comparable job with the competition.
  • It’s been two years since you got a raise.
  • You can’t afford a vacation or new high definition TV.

Are these legitimate reasons for expecting your boss to give you a raise? Maybe they are reasonable to you, but are they a rationale for a boss’s business decision?

Think about it. All these reasons are aimed at providing a benefit to you. A business decision is based not only on what you have done for the company in the period since your last raise, but also on what you will do going forward.

Language of management

Quality professionals hear over and over that they should speak in the language of management. Management is measured on its contribution to the company’s profitability. What have you done recently to enhance the boss’s metrics (your current worth to the company), and what contribution to those metrics will you provide in the foreseeable future?

In plain language, base your request on the favorable return on investment your past contributions have made and the value of your anticipated future contributions. It’s not all about you; it’s about your value to your company. Giving a salary increase is a business decision, not an emotional response to your real or imagined personal needs.

You know what your worth was when you were hired and should be able to document the value of your subsequent contributions.

If you are able to project a return on the company’s investment in you that clearly substantiates your salary and benefits (perhaps a three to one ratio, or better), this is an economic case for continued investment in you, as well as an indication of the loss to the company should you choose to leave.

Do’s and don’ts

Approaching your boss for a raise requires facts, confidence, clarity and sensitivity.

Do your homework: Know what metrics your boss is measured by, the financial status of your company, the factors in the external environment that are impacting the company, your personal worth to the company (past, present and future) and how your personal development and growth relates to the company’s strategy.

Understand your boss as well as you can: Know his or her history with the company, predominant management style and perceptions of you and your performance.

Know what drives your boss, and determine the best time to approach him or her. Avoid times when your boss is distracted by other serious management or operational issues or is in a bad mood. Even the time of day might be important.

Understand the company guidelines on compensation: This should include your boss’s constraints on salary decisions, your salary range, where within that range your current salary lies and what might justify your boss to bypass the guidelines. Try to learn the typical raises your peers received (this might be tough to find out).

Know when salary decisions are made and, if possible, plan your request after receiving a positive performance appraisal. Carefully choose the salary you will request and be ready to explain how you arrived at that figure, excluding any personal needs.

Fine-tune your behavior: Don’t demand, beg or seek pity. Don’t play the “I need” card. Don’t brag about your accomplishments but instead simply present them factually. Don’t approach the discussion as if it is a problem—present your case as an opportunity. Don’t threaten to quit if you don’t get a raise.

Be prepared

Do bring examples of how you have contributed to the company’s profitability—and imply how you made your boss look good.

To issues such as salary freezes, economic squeezes, hostile takeover fights, outsourcing or downsizing, respond as if they represent an opportunity for you to excel in contributing to the company’s strategy.

If you are at the top of your salary range, be prepared to demonstrate how you exceeded guidelines and added value. Better yet, detail responsibilities that could be added to your job and qualify you for a higher range.

If you fail to get an unqualified “yes,” then negotiate a near-term revisit of the request, and try to get the boss to be clear on what you could do to make his or her decision easier.

If you’ve diligently kept documentation of every project, procedure and system in which you contributed, you have a factual base on which to present your economic case for a raise.

Remember that not needing this raise (or at least not stating your need) gives you power in your negotiation.

Use the negotiating concept of triangulation: I’m here, you’re there, so how do we get to an agreement acceptable to both of us?

Russell T. Westcott is an ASQ fellow, certified quality auditor and certified manager of quality/organizational excellence. He is editor of the third edition of the CMQ/OE Handbook, co-editor of the Quality Improvement Handbook and author of Simplified Project Management for Quality Professionals and Stepping Up to ISO 9004:2000. Westcott is also an instructor of the ASQ CMQ/OE refresher course. Based in Old Saybrook, CT, he owns the Offerjost-Westcott Group, a work-life planning and career-coaching firm.

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