Getting Yourself a Raise!

posted by Dilip on October 13, 2014

By Dilip Saraf

Comments made by Microsoft’s Satya Nadella about how women in the workplace should deal with their pay raise exploded into the media world and the blogosphere because of their sheer fatuousness! His thoughtless comments, though, spoke the truth as Satya himself saw it. Interestingly, Satya in Sanskrit means truth!

Mr. Nadella’s truth is that he himself probably never had to ask his bosses at Microsoft for a raise, since his rise there was quite meteoric. When you are on that path you are too intoxicated to think about raises and titles, but are taken by how well you have done for yourself and expect that the “higher powers” and the “system” will take care of your needs, as he himself professed that day. He was probably right about that assessment at every step of his career.

Unfortunately, not all of us are that lucky or trusting of the system and the higher powers. Our needs are more existential and urgent. So, this blog is NOT about Mr. Nadell’a fatuous comments, his mindset, or of those of his ilk, but it is about how does one go about seeking the raise that they deserve; us everyday folks!

There are three issues that shed a sharper focus on the real problems everyone faces at work. This problem is further exacerbated for women because of the structural issues facing that gender and because of how they approach their own careers compared to men. Research shows that men apply for jobs for which they have 60% of the stated qualifications, while women demur unless they have 100% (I call it “the 60% challenge.”). The same dynamic is probably also at play when it comes to making your case during a performance review. So, the three issues that need addressing here are:

  1. The most relevant issue to each employee is how do you bring parity between the value you create at work and how it is compensated;
  2. The second one is how do you level the playing field that is historically lop sided (the pay gap);
  3. How do you bring parity to the two genders’ mindsets (the “60% challenge” for women mentioned above).

In this blog I plan to provide my recommendations (that have created successes for my clients) on how to address each of these issues:

Although it is more difficult to structurally change the lop-sided, gender-biased playing field each person affected by that inequity can take a personal charge and focus on how their own case fits into their company’s current compensation framework (“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”). My view is that if each person facing such inequity takes care of themselves (I did not purposely use the pronoun “herself,” because I think it is a much broader problem) then the structural inequities will sort themselves out over period of time.

So, how does one do this so that they have a fighting chance of being treated equitably? As a senior executive in the corporate world myself in one of my past avatars, I found that the iniquitous pay raises in companies occur because they often go unchallenged and they are also handled reactively. What I always exhort to my clients, especially when they are paid below their price point, is that waiting for the annual performance review (APR) is too late to get the right consideration. The right time is now. Here are my recommendations to get the raise you want:

  1. Well ahead of the APR cycle have a serious discussion about your “roadmap of value creation” with the boss. This roadmap includes both what the boss lays out as your assigned tasks, the initiatives that you propose, and the ones the boss agrees on for you to create even greater and new value in your current role. These initiatives can be selected from your knowledge of the key issues the work unit, organization, and the company are facing to make itself a stronger player in the market.
  2. Always remember that you do NOT get what you deserve, but what you negotiate. This negotiation has much more authority and meaning if you do it ahead of the value delivery. Somehow, the perceived power and value of what you deliver diminishes exponentially with time after you deliver it. So, having an agreement of what that value means to your boss, the organization, and the company must be cemented before you begin to work on creating that value.
  3. The other problem you will inevitably face when you start negotiating after the value of your work is realized is that someone will poach your claim to your contributions and hijack it away from you when they realize that what you are doing is valuable. You can stake your claim to your own initiative only if you protect it by having the agreement with your boss first, before even you begin that work.
  4. Learn how to monetize the value of your work by using the same benchmark that your boss and organization uses. For example, if your boss says that moving the NPS (Net Promoter Scores) from 60 to 85 translates into $4M in extra profits and if he acknowledges that you helped achieve the lions share of that jump in NPS, then see how you can get the lions share of that $4M (a 1-2% of the proceeds would be a good win for you).
  5. Do not let your boss squelch your argument for the right raise (or bonus) by his pointing to their budget and how it needs to be allocated across the team. You must be selfish enough and farseeing enough to protect your interest by having this discussion AHEAD of time and holding your boss accountable to the original agreement.

Now, coming to the second issue of leveling the playing field, here is what has worked for my clients:

  1. First know where you stack in the scheme of team ranking and have an open discussion with your boss about your own view of it. If you can find relative rankings (a difficult task) then you can assess for yourself if these rankings are objective. Remind your boss of your initial discussion about your own value-creation roadmap and his agreement with you.
  2. Find out the salary range for your grade and see where in that range you are placed. If you are an above-average player and your salary point is still to the left of the mid point, then ask your boss to explain that to your satisfaction.
  3. HR and bosses keep these salary ranges secret to protect themselves for a reason. Ask a lawyer if they need to be that way. You’d be surprised by what the law provides.
  4. If you are convinced that you’re being shortchanged because of your gender, race, or other attributes bring it up with your boss and ask if your observations have any merit. Make sure that you do not do this in an adversarial tone, at least in the beginning.
  5. If you cannot get what is fair and equitable after coming this far. Find yourself another job and leave that employer.

Finally, dealing with your “60% challenge” and feeling diffident because of it, prop yourself up by reaching further than your grasp and finding out how far you can really go before you go too far. Women will surprise themselves by how far they can go merely by merely trying.

Each of my recommendations has proven successful for my clients and many have gone further than they thought possible. So, go out there and get what you are truly worth and surprise yourself. Then send a note to Mr. Nadella that even the higher powers are now within your reach and that you can create your own karma right in front of you!

Good luck!