Asking for a pay increase
Christmas is done and dusted and January stretches before us, apparently long, bleak and (for many) alcohol-free. But the hangover which the season of excess has left a lot of us feeling is as likely to be financial as purely physical. It’s no surprise then that alongside perennial favourites such as going dry, a common feature on New Year’s resolution lists is asking for a salary increase. If it’s on yours, how do you avoid being one of the vast majority who get no further than drawing up the list?
Acting on your resolution
Resolutions are by their nature challenging, but most merely involve a difficult conversation with yourself. A pay-rise involves a difficult conversation with your boss.
Asking is clearly not the same as getting, but the old adage “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” applies in spades to salary increases.
And open dialogue benefits all parties in a relationship. From the company (and the boss’s) point of view, it’s clearly better to know how an employee feels about his or her remuneration than not to know. Staff who feel unable to express themselves overtly on the subject are likely to do so covertly and implicitly, with a negative impact on their productivity, their customers and their colleagues; or to wait until they feel obliged to frame their request in the form of a threat.
But you CAN make this request – and indeed any request – whilst generating a minimum of discomfort (for both parties) and a maximum of respect if you adhere to a certain number of principles. The most important key to any difficult (or not so difficult) conversation is an understanding of how the other person likes to be spoken to.
How does your boss like to be spoken to? The same way you do!
Those reading this newsletter who are veterans of one of our courses will recall that human beings of all stripes – of all ages, genders, functions, management levels, even nationalities and cultures – all have this much in common: if you ask them how they like to be spoken to, they’ll all respond with something like: “clear, direct and straight to the point; as long as it’s also polite, courteous and respectful.”
So there are your guidelines. And using a simple structure for opening the meeting will allow you systematically to marry candour with courtesy.
Setting your goal for the meeting
The first thing to do is to fix your meeting goal. But make sure it’s a proper goal, a measurable result to be achieved by the end of the meeting, something the other person says or does or something you produce together. “I want to discuss my salary prospects” is NOT an end-result, it’s merely a means to an (implicit, unannounced) end. “I want you to tell me you’ll be increasing my salary by 7.5% from April 1st ” – now that’s a concrete meeting goal, fully measurable because you’ll leave the meeting knowing whether you’ve achieved it or not.
Make sure your goal is not just ambitious enough to give you real satisfaction if you achieve it, but realistic in the context. If your boss doesn’t have autonomy with regard to your salary, then the above objective is clearly unobtainable. In that context, ambition and realism can be balanced with something along the lines of: “I’m hoping you’ll assure me that you’ll present my case for a salary raise to HR and give it your full support.”
Or, thinking longer term, what about setting out to define the specifications which will produce your next raise: “I want to leave your office with a clear understanding of what I need to do to be sure of a raise by the end of the year”?
Whatever the goal you choose, the only way of adhering to what you know is your boss’s preference for directness is to announce your goal right at the beginning of the conversation. And – with a couple of additions – you can do so without coming over as curt or abrupt.
Your business case
Having chosen your goal, the next thing you need to do is to prepare your case for a raise: list your achievements vs. the objectives which you were set, look at the value you’ve added, do the necessary benchmarking, consider the company’s overall financial situation.
And how do you feel?
The third thing you need to do is to ask yourself how you’ll feel about announcing your chosen meeting goal to your boss, given the nature of your relationship with him or her, but also given the strength of the case you’ve prepared. Expressing how you feel about saying something will make it much easier for you to do so.
Kicking off the conversation
And then you’re going to turn those three elements on their head, and your start to this difficult conversation may sound something like this:
“John, I’ve had to screw my courage up to come and see you today because I want to talk to you about something which I’m extremely uncomfortable bringing up. But I’m also telling myself that if I don’t bring it up myself, it’s unlikely anyone else will do so on my behalf. So here goes.
“I’ve been thinking about my performance over the last 18 months, the results I’ve achieved and the feedback you and other directors have given me. I’ve done some industry bench-marking and I’ve looked at the firm’s current financial position – and if necessary I’m happy to go into any or all of that in detail.
“What brings me into your office today is the hope that having heard me out, you’ll agree to present my case to HR for a salary raise of around 10% effective from April.
“How does that sound to you as a goal for the meeting?”
Clear and direct, yet polite and courteous. This is just the start of the meeting and there’s still a long way to go. It’s not a guarantee you’ll get your raise – but if a raise is objectively gettable, at least in the way you start the conversation you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of getting it. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable too – and you’ll generate both self-respect and the respect of your boss. After all, someone who can make a difficult internal request with candour, clarity and courtesy is someone who is likely to be just as effective dealing with customers and other stakeholders.