6 TIPS FOR THE SALARY RAISE DISCUSSION
One day my friend Tom came to cry on my shoulder.
“I´ve brought in a client who´ll increase our company turnover almost by 25%! Guess what I got in return from the boss? A pat on the back!”
I´ve known Tom for five years; he works evenings, weekends, and is always thinking of ways to improve things. Despite his efforts, he feels unhappy and unfulfilled at work. In fact, Tom should talk to his boss about a raise.
Easier said than done. When we consider negotiating a salary increase, our first thought is usually of an adversarial process. We feel very uncomfortable, afraid of the image we´ll project: that we´re greedy, pushy, or just plain ungrateful. The awkwardness of the moment makes most people – like Tom – avoid the discussion till the moment when they’re ready to slam the door and leave the company.
Here are six tips that can help you go about the process in a more constructive manner:
- How should you approach your boss?
Imagine you’re the boss. The following two employees visit your office, in succession.
Employee A: “I want a 15% salary increase, or I’m out.” How would you react?
Employee B: “I really like working here, but I have a problem. Can you help me find a solution?”
Which employee would you listen to? Employee B, right? When solving a problem, you and your boss need to work together; you must cooperate rather than compete.
- When should you approach your boss?
Timing is everything. I recommend making the approach after one of the following successes: winning a great sale, completing a project successfully, or receiving recognition. Tom is in a great position to knock on his manager´s door.
What time of day should you approach your boss? Best is the middle of the week after lunch. Do not choose Monday morning or Friday afternoon, when most people are stressed or eager to escape. You want your boss relaxed and giving you undivided attention.
Where is the best place to have the talk? Find neutral ground or your office. Home field advantage works not only in sports, but in business settings, too. Beware of potential for eavesdroppers; managers don’t want to be put on the spot publicly any more than you do.
How frequently should you have these talks? A good rule of thumb is about once a year, unless you achieve some goal or make some miraculous breakthrough.
- Facts, then needs
Preparation is 90% of success. Yet, most people don´t really know how to prepare for the raise discussion. Think of it like preparing for a business deal; write down concrete figures, facts, and benefits you´ve contributed to the organisation.
Second, write down your real needs. Why do you want a salary increase? Are you buying a house? Do you want the best education for your kids? Or are you dreaming of a holiday in the sun to get away from it all? For some people, it´s more about feeling appreciated for their hard work, being fairly compensated compared to other people in the company, or having a sense of progress in their career. You might realise to your own surprise that you don´t really need a higher salary but rather less stress, less responsibility, or simply to have your weekends free from work. The needs behind thinking “I deserve a raise” are numerous. Think about it for a while. Might there be any non-monetary way to meet your needs?
Write down your boss’s needs, too. Typically, a manager wants to control costs, have happy customers, and deliver on sales targets. Adding your boss’s interests to the picture, I´m sure your list of potential solutions will grow. Maybe you´d accept more training, or a different job title, or a company car. Remember, a raise does not always have to be about money.
- Standards and criteria
Companies have standards as a protection against being treated unfairly. With a little preparation, you can use them to support your case. What makes your raise request legitimate? Is there a company policy or process you should follow so that your request is viewed as legitimate? To whom do you need to talk? What models do other companies use to reward excellent performance? What´s the market salary for people at your level?
What if there are no readily apparent standards? If you can´t find standards, you probably need to clarify the criteria for bonuses and raises with your boss. Be polite, but firm: if you don´t know the expectations, you cannot meet them.
If you work at a young company where such criteria haven’t yet been cemented, you have a great opportunity to help shape them. This in itself brings added value to your company.
- Plan B: Your self-help alternatives
Countless research shows that being able to walk away from a negotiation confidently strengthens your hand considerably. The option of walking away must be in your mind from the beginning. Without it, you will very likely come on as nervous, desperate, or bitter, and you won’t be well-received. Before entering the negotiation, simply prepare alternative solutions in case the salary raise is not accepted. If you´re really assertive, you might explore your other options on the web. In fact, some people recommend that you should never stop searching for a job! Whether you´re an assertive type or not, the idea behind the theory is simple; with an alternative offer in your pocket, you feel much more at ease in knowing you aren’t forced to agree. But never start by telling your boss you have another offer! It will probably cause a negative reaction. Nobody likes being backed into a corner, especially right at the start.
- Small talk is big
Finally, try to be as relaxed and personable as possible. Positive emotions tend to stimulate cooperative action. For example, you can first ask about your boss’s family or children. Most people appreciate this, if done in sincerity.
Also, you might want to start with a few topics on which it’s easy to agree at that very meeting. You might inform your manager about progress you´ve made with a potential client, or consult about the best strategy towards the presentation you´re giving. Most people, managers particularly, like to see progress in a meeting. On top of that, conversation gives you time to warm up for your main point.
Don´t raise the issue too late in the meeting, though. You don´t want to appear to be beating around the bush. After you get one or two steps into the area that shows your competence, progress to the real topic – a raise.
Finally, think of the raise discussion as a process. It is likely that the first meeting will be about expressing views and discussing possibilities. Then some time is needed for the manager to make up his mind and discuss internally. A second or third meeting should suffice to agree on the final details. If you can´t agree within three meetings, I suggest dropping the topic and pursuing your Plan B. You don´t want to have the discussion forever – sooner or later it will impair your relationship with your manager.
Now, let´s imagine Tom had followed these six steps above, earning a 500Eur yearly increase. In 10 years, if nothing else happened, Tom will have come out 60.000Eur ahead. Try that on for size.