Getting a raise or salary increase requires finesse and some inside tips on how things really work. I worked my way up from an entry-level position, to C-Level management and have held many executive roles. I have been responsible for salary treatment for teams and individuals within start-up, small and large organizations.
What I know to be true, regardless of the size or type of business, is that the process of explaining or communicating salary treatment is done poorly in just about every company and organization that I have experienced. The majority of the time, salary treatment is not even openly discussed, and increases come with little say or input from the employee.
The fact is, once you negotiate your salary, you are at the mercy of the company and your manager or department head to fairly compensate you for great work. Given the years of experience that I have had in various organizations, the following are some tips that help lay the foundation for you to get the raise you deserve. They also can give you the clarity you may need to make a decision to move on from your current assignment as well.
When you accept a new job or role, set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) going into the new position. This sets the foundation for your performance goals in your role, and allows you to objectively know when you have hit or exceeded those objectives. This serves multiple purposes, it allows you to check-in on your performance on your own, as well as giving you a better chance at a more objective review once you get to that point.
I have seen nebulous objectives set too many times. Objectives that cannot be measured make it difficult to determine whether they have been hit or achieved. Objectives that are not measurable or cannot be defined in terms of ‘what does success look like,’ are poorly written goals or objectives. Do your best to define goals with your manager’s buy-off that can show that you are a rock star or at a minimum performing successfully once you hit them.
The other thing I will say is that even if you don’t have these set clearly right now, tell your manager that you would like to more clearly define success in your role. Not only does this show initiative on your part, it also gives you a foundation to defend yourself in the event you should need one.
Ask your manager to walk you through how salary treatment is administered. As a member of their team and an employee of the company, you have a right to know management’s and the company’s philosophy toward salary treatment. This subject should be openly discussed as much as goals, benefits and the time-off policy. The fact that salary treatment is treated like such a taboo topic leads to as much frustration, resentment and employee turnover as having a poor manager.
Given that salary treatment is not typically openly discussed, you will most likely have to take the lead. You can let your manager know that you would like to know how salary treatment is administered so that you know what to expect as an employee. This is a reasonable request. You can ask whether the topic of salary treatment is better explained by your manager or by Human Resources. Once you have that answer, you will know what direction to go.
Do great work. It goes without saying that doing great work is a fundamental requirement to receiving a meaningful increase. You may find, which I have seen unfortunately, in some cases employees have done an outstanding job yet do not receive an equivalent increase. This fact makes Tip #2 that much more important. Employees too often put their financial trust in their manager or the company, only to be disappointed — even when they have done an outstanding job.
Document your success throughout the time leading up to the review period. I used to ask my direct reports complete the first draft of their review because as I told them that I was confident that they had a more detailed memory and documentation of all their specific contributions than I will likely have written down. I would then take their draft and add my perspective and additional comments to support their growth. I did this to ensure key contributions were captured and nothing was left out.
Defining clear KPIs before you get to the formal review is crucial to an objective performance review. This is why defining KPIs as you join a company or take a new role within an existing company is vitally important. Waiting until you have already been in the role for a year to assess your performance against KPIs that were never formally set to begin with, makes an objective review extremely difficult if not impossible.
Ask for the raise as part of the review process. This is where finesse comes into the mix. If you followed Tip #2 you have already had the discussion around the company’s salary treatment philosophy. If you did not implement that tip, you are at the mercy of whatever happens.
If you have documented your successes, met or exceeded your objectives, and contributed toward achieving the company’s goals, you should ideally receive an increase. If you have a sense for how salary is administered, you will have a general idea of what’s ‘possible.’
The reality is that from my many years of experience, there is typically a pool of money that is allocated annually and allocated by team. This money is then awarded within each team, by individual employee, based upon several factors. Most of the time, factors taken into consideration include individual employee performance, contributions above what is expected, where the employee falls within the salary range for their role, how long it has been since they received an increase, and whether the employee is at risk of leaving the company.
Bonus Tip #6
At times salary treatment may not reflect or be in proportion to the employee’s contributions. Be aware that ‘merit’ increases or ‘on the spot’ bonuses are sometimes awarded when an employee’s salary is not in alignment with what they have contributed. No one will tell you this openly, so ask about ‘on the spot’ and ‘merit’ increases when you discuss the company’s salary philosophy.
Bonus Tip #7
This tip is one that I learned along the way as well. When you are discussing an increase with your manager, the following are ‘reasons you deserve a raise’ to stay away from like the plague:
- You deserve or need a cost of living increase
- It’s been a long time since you got a raise (this may be true, but if you follow tips #1–5 the chance of this should be minimized
- Never discuss ‘what you heard’ someone else makes on the team
- Industry ‘benchmarks’ for your role
In my next segment on salary treatment when you transition to a new role, new department or new geography, I will share the tips to get the most out of the transition. One of the biggest tips I can tell you is to not undervalue yourself, what you are worth, or what is possible.