Posted on Harvard Business Review: April 22, 2010 2:18 PM
I recently met a coach who specialised in helping women executives get the pay rises they wanted. Even though they held senior roles, he said, many of them were unable to find the right words—or the right moment—to pitch for a raise. They still laboured under the assumption that if they did a great job, a great salary would automatically follow. His job was to help them understand their worth, build the case for a raise and find the confidence to go in to their boss and negotiate.
In my own practice, I have come across many exceptional women—and men—who find it difficult to ask for a raise. It is partly a matter of confidence, partly pride. Some find it distasteful to talk openly about money and highlight their value to the company. Others question their own performance when recognition and reward do not automatically follow their hard work. Employers are often prepared to exploit such discomfort. One of my clients, a very senior woman banker, demanded a raise only when she discovered that her peer's junior report was earning far more than she was— even though he had considerably less experience and responsibility. She told me that sheer fury had driven her into her boss's office to demand a raise.
Navigating the complexities of salaries is never easy, but it has become even more difficult during the economic crisis of the last two years. When your company is restructuring, shedding jobs, and making deep cuts, it is hard to ask for a raise. But it is especially important to look after your career during these times. So what is the best approach to getting a raise and managing your personal career capital?
The first step is good preparation and research:
Ask yourself why you are seeking a pay rise now. It might be that you feel temporarily undervalued. On the other hand, your salary might have plummeted relative to that of your peers. If this is the case, how do your feelings about your salary affect your performance? Consider whether you need to address other aspects of your compensation, such as your bonus, pension, stock options, or leave entitlement.
Look at the wider situation. Consider how economic conditions might be affecting the company. Is it performing well? If not, are its problems long or short-term? Ask yourself whether this is the right time to ask for a pay rise and whether your company is a position to give anyone a raise. If not, postpone your conversation for a more appropriate moment.
Rate your market value honestly. How does your role and salary compare with that of your peers inside and outside the company? Think about how you are using your skills, contacts, and experience to make a difference—are you performing well, achieving your targets, being a great team player, and making a wider contribution to the company?
Manage your profile. Make sure that you are well-known in the company beyond the scope of your own boss and team. Networking is vital here. Create opportunities to demonstrate your value to the company and make sure that you highlight your contribution at appraisals.
Next, make your approach:
Choose the right moment. This could be when your team or division has posted good results or after you have completed a successful project. It is not a good idea to initiate a conversation when your boss is preoccupied or the team is facing problems.
Arm yourself with a plan. If you are looking for a salary raise, have a specific and realistic figure in mind. Build a supporting case: facts and figures about rates for comparable roles inside and outside the company and recent successes, including meeting objectives, overcoming challenges, and receiving positive feedback. These will help you build your argument and in turn make it easier for your boss to argue your case.
strong>At the meeting, be specific and clear about the purpose of the meeting and set out your case. Avoid bringing other issues into the discussion and comparing yourself with colleagues. Be positive and emphasise how much you enjoy your role. The worst thing you can do is to become emotional or issue ultimatums.
Be prepared to negotiate and then wait. Decide whether you want to accept alternatives to a raise, such as more leave, stock options, a car, a bonus, or performance-related pay. There is obviously more risk with the latter as events outside your control could scupper this. And remember that your boss may not be able to agree to your requests on the spot. If this is the case, clarify what you have agreed on and ask for it to be put in writing within an agreed timeframe.
Of course, there is no guarantee that you will get what the raise you seek. If you don't receive what you want, try to find out whether this is due to company policy, the salary expectations for your role, or your own performance. Is there anything you can do to influence the situation, for example, seeking wider responsibilities or more stretching targets?
If matters are beyond your control, you may have to reconsider your position—or wait for a better opening for the conversation. If the latter is the case, my advice would be to stay positive, do the best job possible and ensure that your profile remains high. You can then decide whether it is in your best interests to pitch for a raise, change roles, or leave the company.
I am sure that there are many readers with excellent advice for anyone seeking a pay rise. What has worked for you to secure a raise? Do you have any good tips or suggestions to pass on? Do you have any advice on what not to do? As always, I await your comments with interest.