As I sat down to lunch with my boss I was anything but hungry.
A legion of cracked-out butterflies were bouncing around my stomach. This was going to be an uncomfortable conversation.
So what’s up? What did you want to talk to me about?
I swallowed my nerves.
Well… um… I noticed that some of our key engineers have been getting raises for their great performance.
I know I’m not an engineer, but my performance has been excellent. I’m a rising talent in this organization, and I should be compensated accordingly.
I’d like a raise.
My boss couldn’t hide the shock on his face.
He had never seen this side of me.
For the last eight months, I had done nothing but race around the office with a smile on my face as I took on all sorts of non-glamorus work.
My sole focus had been wowing my boss and delighting my coworkers. Whining, complaining, and even asking were off limits.
Finally after a pause, he responded with a smile.
I didn’t know you had it in you. What do you think your new salary should be?
I left that lunch with a raise and a title change.
Before you ask
Relationships are like bank accounts.
The more you deposit, the easier it is to make the occasional withdraw.
So before you ask for a raise (or raise your rates on an existing client if you’re self-employed), aggressively deposit to your work relationships.
Be generous. Go above and beyond with your service. Without asking anything in return, volunteer to take on extra projects that will benefit the business. Actively seek out dirty work and non-glamorous projects that others are avoiding.
Promote others. Celebrate other people’s successes. Let them know when they are doing a great job. When your performance is highlighted be sure to share the credit with others that helped you succeed.
Own your mistakes. At some point, you will screw up, drop the ball, or miss a deadline. Even these moments are opportunities to shine. Instead of deflecting the blame, admit your failures and quickly fix the situation.
This type of behavior is so counter to our instincts and so counter to prevailing culture that you will quickly stand out. And you’ll be standing out for all of the right reasons.
Moreover, you’ll build tremendous good will with your co-workers. They will want to see you promoted and likely even lobby for it.
As you can see, the process of getting a raise happens way before you make any sort of ask. Start that process now.
When you ask
Once you’ve put yourself in a position to warrant a raise, it’s time to make what I call The Strategic Ask.
To execute The Strategic Ask, you need to get three things right.
The right timing. Pick a time when you know that you’ll have your boss’ undivided attention.
Right in the middle of a major product launch or at the very end of a sales quarter are bad times. Often, there is a short window after high stress times like these that is ideal for broaching the topic of your compensation.
Notice in my example that I referenced engineers in my company receiving promotions. I knew that my boss’ attention was on personnel and compensation and so I used that momentum in my favor.
The right location. This is going to be an uncomfortable conversation. Use that to your favor.
Be sure to meet in a location where your meeting won’t be interrupted and your boss won’t have an excuse to make an early exit.
This is why I chose a restaurant for my conversation. At a restaurant, there’s no office phone that is going to ring, no other employee who will barge in, and no quick way out of the situation.
As well, sharing a meal is a highly relational activity. Relational connection makes people more receptive to requests.
The right delivery. This one is hard as you’ll undoubtedly be nervous. So do your best, and don’t panic if you have trouble sticking to the following script:
First, acknowledge your boss and your company. “I’ve really enjoyed working here for the last [insert time frame]. It’s been an incredible opportunity.” Second, acknowledge your excitement for the future. “I’m excited about continuing to grow here and take on even bigger projects.” Third, acknowledge your performance and feedback you’ve received. “Over the past [insert time frame] my performance has been really. [Insert specific projects] were all super successful. You’ve told me on numerous occasions that we never would have gotten [insert project or initiative] off the ground were it not for my contribution.” Fourth, acknowledge your desire for a pay increase. “And so I’m asking for a raise.” Fifth, shut up and embrace the awkwardness. Don’t rush to fill any silence that ensues. Force your boss to break the silence. You’ve just showed you have some real guts.
After you ask
If you do not get the raise, re-evaluate your situation.
Perhaps you are in an organization that doesn’t reward performers. In that case, it’s time to make an exit plan and get yourself into an organization that does reward performers.
Perhaps you jumped too early or there are some circumstances that are out of your boss’ control. In that case, ask when would be an appropriate time to revisit this conversation AND set that meeting – even if it’s a few months out.
If you do get the raise, there’s a piece of spiritual advice that comes to mind:
Be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. – Click to Tweet
Now that you’ve got your raise, go back to being innocent as a dove.
Be generous, promote others, and own your mistakes. Frankly, it’s the most satisfying and refreshing way to live your life – 99% of the time.
You (and others) now know that the other 1% of the time, when you have to show your teeth, you can be as shrewd as a serpent.