How To Pitch Your Boss On A Salary Increase – By Liz Ryan
You could ask your boss for a raise right now, but if you launch that conversation without advance planning you’re likely to go down in flames.
“Sorry, I wish I could do something, but budgets are frozen until the end of the year.”
Every boss has that speech ready to go. They have to, in case employees make random salary-increase requests out of the blue like the one I’m trying to prevent you from making right now.
Our mission at Human Workplace is to humanize work, and a sub-goal of that mission is to remind people that work is mostly a series of human interactions. We pretend it’s all squared-off edges and plans and forecasts, but if you think about it you’ll realize at once that the mechanical view of work is hogwash. Work is a human thing and always has been.
In most organizations we teach young business people to plan and strategize everything from running a meeting to updating a process flowchart, but we don’t teach them much about interpersonal communication. That’s a shame and a waste of potential, because people who can strategize their interactions with other people make better employees and have more successful careers. Talking to your boss about pay is a perfect example.
If you can get enough altitude on your boss’s situation to see how giving you a raise (a/k/a keeping you committed and feeling valued) is a good thing for him, your odds of getting the salary bump increase dramatically.
Here’s how to do it. Start by thinking about the critical position you fill on the team. Think about the Business Pain your boss would experience if you weren’t in the job and some other person, not a top performer like you, were in the role.
Baseball players have a metric for the impact of their personal contributions to the win/loss records of their teams. It’s called Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. A WAR score estimates the incremental wins that a team gets by having a superstar on the field versus Joe Schmoe just called up from the minors (not to criticize dear Joe, who has worked hard and made his parents proud and is fictional in any case). Of course, a WAR score is an estimate, but it’s a thoughtful estimate based on a player’s results for his team in the past and the delta between that player’s record and the team’s or league’s average.
If you apply the WAR logic to your own situation, you’ll see that the position you play (your role in your organization) is not as important as what you personally bring to whatever position you cover.
When we advise job-seekers, we tell them “Don’t worry about your tasks and duties! Use your precious resume real estate to talk about what you brought to the role that most people wouldn’t have.” It’s the same way when you’re in a job and looking for a pay raise. Reflect over the past year, and ask yourself “What impact did I have on this place that another person would not have?” That’s a step toward a WAR calculation and a better understanding of your positive impact on the team.
For the purposes of illustration, we’ll call you Robert and make you a 34-year-old Marketing person. You’ve been in your job for two years and are reasonably happy apart from two things. The first is that your boss seems to take your contributions for granted.
He’s pleasant enough, but when you say “I went to three networking events last month trying to get into conversation with the Business Editor at the Daily Beagle, and I finally did it! He wants to have coffee next week. He’s a terrific guy to have on our side,” your boss says “Good deal! Did you notice where Paula went? I have a question for her.”
The other problem is that your pay is unexciting for the work you’re doing, making you think that your boss really doesn’t know what you do or why it matters to him. When you took the job, you knew the pay was so-so but figured you’d give it a shot. Two years down the road, something has to give.
Before you talk to your boss, Alan, about your pay, go home and do some thinking. What’s a realistic WAR score for your desk? What’s the set of objectives you had in front of you a year ago, and how have you done knocking them off your list? Where can you tie your results back to an increase in sales, decrease in marketing expense (retaining customers and reducing churn) or a decrease in operating costs for the firm, for instance via process improvement? These are the numbers and stories you’ll want to focus on when you make your salary-increase pitch.
Let’s say that you pushed for, helped build and installed an automated product-information resource on your company’s website. You know the online tool has increased sales and decreased the time period from a prospect’s first contact to their first order. How much has each metric improved? Go ahead and make some assumptions. Write them down. If you were a consultant on a performance-based bonus plan, how much of a bonus could you reasonably demand right now? You’ve got to have the same perspective on your salaried job.
“I worked really hard” is a losing pitch for a pay bump. That isn’t your boss’s problem. “My HOA dues went up” is even worse. Your expenses are your own headache. The principles at work are “What benefits have you produced for your firm and what Business Pain have you relieved?” on the one hand and “How much better are you at your job than Joe Schmoe would be?” on the other.
Once you have the numbers clear in your mind and feel good about claiming the extra wins you’ve delivered for your team, set up a one-on-one meeting with your boss. Don’t say “I want to talk to you about my pay.”
Say “Alan, when you have time I want to sit down with you and get your take on my project plan and roadmap for the next year.” The malleable term “roadmap” leaves the door open for you to discuss compensation if the conversation unfolds in such a way that you still want to talk about it when the moment arrives.
Prepare a one-page cheat sheet to share with Alan, in PowerPoint form or using funky graphics like the ones in this story, and share your next-twelve-months plan with Alan when you meet. I predict he’ll be happy that you’ve taken the initiative to lay out your plan and your ideas with him proactively, rather than waiting to be told what to do.
If Alan is as enthusiastic about your plan as you’d like him to be, say “I want to get your go-ahead on my plan, and also synch up with you about the salary-and-career-advancement roadmap that maps to this project plan. If I complete all of what I’ve described today as I fully expect to do, what sort of comp progression would you be comfortable with over the next year?”
Notice that you don’t ask what Alan would he would be able to approve by himself. Most likely he can’t approve much on his own. You’re asking a different question. That question is “Would you go to bat for me, if I get all this stuff done?”
There’s no downside to a roadmap conversation with your boss once a year, whether you’re looking for a raise or not. Your muscles will grow when you stand for your value and ask your boss for his take on your assessment of your WAR rating. If your boss says “I think you’re paid fairly right now, and if you get all this stuff accomplished I’ll give you a three percent COLA like everybody else here” then you got what you came for: clarity.
We can’t force people to do what they don’t want to. We can help them see the value in our work, and if they don’t see it, we can make plans to invest our intellect and energy working with people who can see those things as clearly as we do. If they don’t get you, after all, they don’t deserve you.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: How to Pitch Your Boss on a Salary Increase