Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jan 25, 2010

Ask A Manager: Asking for a raise

Dick Whitman, Manager in Residence

Dear Manager,
What was the most compelling request for a raise you have heard?

I think the most compelling request came from a guy who was brought into my company in an acquisition. His prior role in the smaller company was relatively contained and specific. Shortly after my company came onto the scene, a few key players from his very small group left abruptly and unexpectedly. We were left in a very bad spot in that we had so few people left who knew anything about this operation that was so new to us.

This guy – let’s call him “Bob” -- saw an opportunity to help the company while helping himself, and he volunteered to step up into a much bigger role that had been left without an owner. Bob told me where he saw the need for the business, and explained to me why he felt that he was the right guy to take on the role. In the process, he described some new ways that he would like to approach the job. Given the fact that I was in a bind and had very little to work with, it was an easy sell.

All of this was done before anyone mentioned money. Bob’s actions were far louder than any words he could have spoken. It was only after we had figured out the new structure that he said to me, with great candor and sincerity, “I want this business to succeed. I am happy to have this opportunity and I intend to make it work. I have seen the potential for years and I have wanted to play a bigger part in it. All I ask is that you look at my pay in relation to my job and consider whether it is appropriate.”

The combination of Bob’s words and actions made me fight as hard as I could to improve his compensation. I was able to give him a very healthy raise that put him more in line with his value to the organization, and to me.

The key here from a manager’s standpoint is that the increase in pay needs to be tied to the value of the work, and that this evaluation is most effective when it is done objectively. In other words, managers want to know that you have the business’ best interests in mind and that you are asking for a fair shake based on your contributions.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had employees ask for a raise because “they need one”. In my younger years I tried this once (and failed) myself, so you should know that I am not playing the holy card here. You just don’t want to be arguing for a raise because you want to start a family or because your kid needs braces, or because your in-laws are moving in and you need to buy a bigger house. These motivators might be the force that brings you to the table for the discussion, but they cannot enter into the justification for higher pay from the company, particularly when budgets are tight.

Remember, unless you work directly for the CEO, or maybe the Corporate Controller, your manager most likely will not be able to make an off-cycle raise happen for you without going up the chain and fighting for it in turn. Picture your manager telling the VP or Finance department that Nancy needs a raise because she has a wedding to pay for. Doesn’t work.

You also don’t want to be demanding anything. These are sensitive talks, and there is an inherent risk that your manager will be put on the defensive when asked. A manager can feel like he is faced with the problem of an important employee at risk of leaving -- or at least at risk of being unhappy, maybe spreading some bad cheer along the way -- and he is also being asked to do something that is not entirely under his control. As an employee, if you can help your manager understand the business rationale, you are then partnering with him to come to a solution together.

So my advice is to first show your value by going the extra mile, helping out, and working above the expectations of your job. After that, to do an honest assessment of where you stand in the market based upon the job that you do. If you feel like you have a clear case of undercompensation, then the tone of the discussion that works best, in my opinion, is something like this, “I like it here. I don’t want to think about leaving. Based on the information I have, and from my perspective, I believe that my compensation is out of line with the value that I bring. I am asking that you evaluate this and let me know if you agree. If you do, I am asking you to help correct this. If not, I’d like some help understanding why.”

What's your opinion? Any positive/negative experiences asking for a raise? Does gender make a difference here? If you think it does, is it because we make it an issue or does management make it an issue? Tell us in the comments!
-Miss Minchin, Dean of Students

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