Show Me The Money: How to Ask for A Raise

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“I’m going to give you a little advice,” Ty Webb says to a young golf caddy who is complaining about his life (a.k.a. Chevy Chase in the movie Caddyshack). “There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen and be the ball.” He then puts on a blindfold, grabs a wedge and from 60 yards away, chips the ball over a water hazard, onto the green and into the hole.

Wouldn’t it be nice if golf (and everything else in life) was so easy? Wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do was ‘get in touch with the universe’ and everything would magically fall into place? To be able to merrily go through life with a blindfold on and have everything work out for the best? Unfortunately, very few good things just happen. Even though a lot of people are doing just that; blindfold on, head down, swinging for the fences. Staying positive and wishful thinking, although great attributes, do not take the place of hard work and planning, especially when it comes to your career and money.

“Don’t get all crazy,” Keith said. I was just south of Boston on Highway 95 creeping along in bumper to bumper traffic. Keith was a few hundred miles North West of me heading south on Interstate 84 in New York. I was on my way to a meeting in Providence RI with my boss and he was heading home.

“What do you mean,” I said thinking about everything I wanted to say in the meeting.

He cleared his throat. “Look” he said. “You know what it is like to have someone come to you and ask for more money.” I nodded and realized the traffic on the far right lane had started moving. I was in the far left. I contemplated my next move.

“I get threatened often” I say adjusting my mirror so that I can see all the traffic behind me. It looked like it went on forever. “If you don’t give me a raise I’ll quite” I say in a mocking tone.

“I just had that happen to me” Keith said.

“Ha!” I said.

“Yeah” he said. “It’s not the smartest way to start a conversation about money.”

It started slowly, first the far right lane, then the middle right and now the middle left were all moving. I was still in the far left completely stopped. I never pick the right lanes. Knowing this, my wife never lets me pick which line to stand in at the grocery store. The trick in traffic is to see an opportunity a few car lengths back, perhaps someone is on the phone and not paying attention and leaves you just enough room to move in. I see my chance and take it. Soon I am cruising at a top speed of 20 miles an hour and then just like that we were stopped again.

“I told him,” Keith went on. “If you want to have a conversation about money then come to me saying you want to have the conversation. If there is anything I can do, based on our economic stability and your performance, then I will. If there isn’t then I won’t. Threatening me doesn’t help either of us get what we want.”

“I have had a lot of people give me the same ultimatum that left my office unemployed,” I said. “I’m certainly not doing that.”

“I know you’re not. Just don’t get all crazy.” Keith said. “You’ve done it the right way so far. You both know you’re meeting to talk about money. Make your case and let him make his.”

“Yes” I said as I swiveled my head back and forth like an owl, white knuckling my stearin wheel in frustration. Traffic on both sides of me had started to move. I checked my mirror and there it was. The white minivan that was in front of me when I was in the far left lane just went zooming past me. Shit!

Throughout my career I have had hundreds of conversations with hundreds of employees about starting wages, raises, benefits, etc. However, there have only been a handful of times that the conversation was about MY wages, raises, and benefits. I have never worked for a company that gives out annual raises automatically. I have never had my employer call me up or come to the room I’m cleaning and happily announce “Another year has passed and as a token of our appreciation for all that you have done, we are giving you a raise!”

In today’s economic climate, with massive layoffs, bankruptcies, a housing crisis and a 9.2% unemployment rate we are seeing less and less of these type of raises. More and more companies are either doing away with annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) completely or offering less and less to their employees.

Instead, companies today are embracing ‘Performance Based Pay’ incentives rather than blanket cost of living increases and it is this type of payment structure that we all should embrace. Here’s why: The costs of goods and services fluctuate constantly, from State to State, Country to Country and even week to week. It is typical to see prices on everything go up and down depending on the product or service. Year to year, however, all prices continue to go up (traditionally). A loaf of bread in 2011 cost more than a loaf of bread in 2010, for instance. Companies that offer’s annual pay increases (COLA) do so as an idealistic way to ensure the amount of money their employees earn has the same purchasing power year to year. That is to say, you continue to have an equal amount of purchasing power year to year. This is not a raise. If the cost of goods and services go up 3% and you get a 3% increase in pay, you are in the same economic situation you were in the year before.

Going through the review process and asking for a raise can be a stressful endeavor for both you and your employer. Years and years of going through the process as both the employee and employer I have developed 10 strategies that have helped me get more money every time I have asked.

1.      Deserve an increase.    Too many times I have had uncomfortable conversations with managers who quite frankly should have known better than to ask for an increase. Two quick points to consider before you seek a raise. First, understand you do not get paid for your time; you get paid for the value you bring to your organization. Second, unless there is a huge change in your initial job duties’, asking for a raise before you have spent a minimum of 1 year on the job will send the wrong message to your employer and the answer will most likely be a resounding no.

2.      Schedule a meeting.     Nothing is more disconcerting than being blindsided by an employee, especially a manager. Every time someone has blindsided me with the “I want a raise” conversation it has never turned out well for either of us. Personally I emailed my boss asking for a meeting to discuss my current role in the organization, my current pay (to include all areas of pay (travel, car allowance, bonuses, health insurance, etc.)) and my future with the company. This way I gave him time to be prepared to discuss all the areas I wanted to discuss, while at the same time demonstrated that I respect his time and wish for him to respect mine.

3.      Be prepared.                  When you sit down to discuss your employment make sure you have done your homework. Come up with two financial packages, one being the most ideal and one being the least ideal. If you’re not sure how much to ask for a quick Internet search can get you some wage comparison information to use. Have a good idea what a 2% or 3% increase means in real dollars.

4.      Demonstrate value.      When I sat down with my boss the first thing I did was give him an overview of my career with the organization (although I have worked for the company for more than seven years, I just started working for my current boss about 18 months ago). I told him why I took the job, where I started, the moves I had made, and how both the organization and I have benefited. I now work in sales and it was easy to point at sales as an indicator of my value, for others it could be customer satisfaction surveys, inspection results or product delivery. The point is you need to demonstrate that you are a valuable asset to the organization.

5.      Forecast.          Where do you see yourself in one, two or even five years from now? Are you interested in moving up or laterally or are you happy where you are? Talk to your employer about your goals and demonstrate how you are going to provide even more value to the organization in the future. Keep in mind you want more money so you have to be worth more.

6.      Ask for the increase, or don’t.   Anytime I am having a meeting with one of my managers about money, you can guarantee that I have already done the math. I know what 2% and 3% add up to. I have come up with best case and worst case scenarios regarding the increase. I am prepared. However, I always ask my managers to tell me what they are thinking. I always want them to go first so that I can see if my numbers are close to theirs. If there number is less than mine, I’ll go with their number. If their number is more than mine I won’t. Instead I will tell them I was thinking (insert lower number here) but I am willing to go (insert higher number here) because you have demonstrated value and I do believe you have earned an increase. When I go to my boss for a raise, I always (ALWAYS) ask him “What are you thinking?” first.

7.      Don’t give ultimatums. There is nothing worse than having someone threaten you. I have had a lot of decent, hard-working managers leave my office unemployed because they came in with “you better or I quit” attitude. You may be worth a lot more than your employer is either willing or able to give you. Knowing the difference between willing and able makes all the difference. If, due to tough financial times, your employer is unable to give you an increase, having an attitude is only going to hurt your chances when the economy picks up. And it will, trust me. If your employer is unwilling to give you an increase, ask what you can do specifically to become more valuable and thus, earn more.

8.      Keep it to yourself.        We have all done it. Being social beings means we like to talk to each other. We like to brag and we like to bitch. I am sure that I am not the first person to warn you about talking to your peers about how much money you make. However, I think it is important to note that as an employer it is very difficult to look past someone who is either a braggart or a whiner. Raises are far more difficult to give to these types of individuals.

9.      Listen up.          You have worked hard. You stated your case. You remained positive and professional. You have, up to this point, controlled the meeting. Now it is time to sit back, relax and ask your employer what he or she thinks. Watch your body language. Try keeping a pleasant look on your face. I pay more for happy people than I do unhappy people. Fight the urge to argue each and every point. You should know that when recapping, I am most likely trying to summarize the whole meeting. Don’t interrupt. Let me talk. In the end I always want what is best for both my company and my employees.

10.  Sleep on it.        I try not to accept an offer without sleeping on it. Not because I am going to change how much I want to make, but because I know (when it is me giving the raise) I have a better sense of things after I have had time to digest it all. I prefer to reschedule a follow up meeting in the next couple of days. This is especially helpful if we are miles apart in agreement.

At the end of the day being professional, prepared and positive has always helped me get the most out of my job and my employer.

-Ralph Peterson is the CEO of Ralph Peterson Consulting, [a management training and development firm that specializes in Long-Term Care], an Efficiency Expert, Professional Speaker, Syndicated Columnist and Author of the book, “Managing When No One Wants To Work,” (Four-Nineteen Press, 2014). Contact him at Ralph@RalphPeterson.com

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