Don’t Ask for a Raise, Part 2: Reality Check

I’m glad to see this topic and the ideas I have shared recently have created such a response.  Let me start by saying that I’m not naïve to think that your circumstances will be such that you will never have to ask for a raise. But ideally, the best answer is to have an effective pay-for-performance system in place in your organization. The ideas and suggestions I shared in the “Why Nadella Was Right: Don’t Ask for a Raisearticle are intended to put the emphasis on objective performance and on your true value.

The message I intended to send in that article was that relationships are important in every phase of work and I believe Nadella was talking about that as well. He talked about the long term strategy of showing your value so that bosses would see you as someone they wanted to work with for the long term.  He thought that the company would recognize the person’s value as a result.  I do not think, however, that this is always the case as I have seen many managers and supervisors who recognize little about an employee’s value.

  In fact, we work closely with companies to change that very problem. So how can you rectify a situation where you know that your value to the organization is more than you are paid? First, let me share some things that will likely decrease the chances of getting a raise.

  1. Raising the issue of gender. If a company is paying less to women than men for the same job, I think that is a crime and becomes an issue for the courts to decide. It’s best if you just don’t go there.
  2. Comparing your value to someone else’s. Focus, instead, on your value and performance and leave others out of the discussion.
  3. Asking when the company is in a downturn. If the company is not profitable, it is not a good time to ask for a raise in any way.
  4. Assuming your boss feels well paid. If you have to ask for a raise you might consider that the boss feels underpaid and underappreciated also.
  5. Your performance is sub-standard. Of course, if you are not a good performer a raise should not be in your future.

It is always a difficult to be in a position where you have to ask for a raise no matter your gender.  If you take the offensive, you put the boss on the defensive.  That is never a good strategy.  In addition, you are likely to be seen as a complainer or even aggressive and demanding.  Such does not bode well even for employees who may deserve a raise. Now, let me suggest some things that will enhance your chances.

  1. Understanding that your boss doesn’t know everything you do. Because your boss cannot know your true value, it is appropriate to show him or her what you have accomplished.  It is easy to say something like, “Boss, when you have a few minutes, I would like to get some feedback from you about some of the things I have done and see what you think.”  This is a low pressure situation for the boss and I think it is important as I have seen many employees who are working hard on things the boss doesn’t value or that don’t add value to the organization.
  1. Building a stronger relationship with your boss. The more you discuss what is and what is not adding value, the stronger your relationship will be and the more opportunity you will have to do other things that add value to the organization. If you are a good performer, these meetings will serve to enhance the relationship between you and the boss and over time you will find a way to talk about your value (in terms of money) that doesn’t come across as demanding or complaining.
  1. Knowing when it is appropriate to discuss money. At some point you may find yourself in a position where showing your value or meeting with the boss has not worked. If so you might say something like, “Boss, I need to earn some more money and I would like to get your ideas about how I can do that.” This communicates that you’re in need of an increase and if you’ve already shown your value, chances are the company will want to respond to your request rather than lose you to someone else.

My opinion is that companies benefit when they take the offensive relative to pay.  That is that they pay more than they need to, or have to, but the most they can, given their needs to grow the business.  Financial types don’t always understand that it is not satisfying to show employees that their company pays above the average for their industry or location. If the company is profitable, it is ideal for the employees to be able to share in the profit —and I mean all employees. But the caveat is that they share based on their individual contribution.  That means that everyone in the same job may not get the same bonus.  We have such a plan at ADI and it works extremely well. Dr. Alyce Dickenson at Western Michigan University has spent many years studying pay and performance, and has shown that even in salary positions when employees have some pay based on performance; it improves both satisfaction and performance. The fact that so many people responded to my article says that companies are doing something wrong in the way they pay employees.  The best way to pay for anything is to pay for value.  When you do, rather than asking for a raise, employees will know how they can increase their value which under a good pay-for-performance system leads to more money, of which the organization will be happy to pay. In the limited space that I have here, I am not able to address all the many issues related to pay.  I have written rather extensively about the issues in my books and blog.  If you cannot find an answer to your problem, please let me know.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.