One for the managers and leaders – How to respond to that request for a salary increase…

My article last week on asking for a salary increase seems to have hit a couple of nerves, this is obviously a very sensitive area for all participants and the best forum to have conversations like this in is within a structured environment such as an annual performance review meeting where the objectives and achievements of the year (or whatever other period) can be discussed calmly and rationally. It’s one where a free interchange of views can be offered and gathered, and has to be set up as a safe space for all involved.

Should this structure not be in place in an office and things are a bit more ad hoc, then here’s some suggestions for principals and department managers when they get approached by team members to have the R-word discussion:

Keep your poker face on

In any human interaction, body language is vital, and your first reaction here will be the most telling. Watch your facial expressions and posture, as well as your words – just as you might if you were playing a game of cards – regardless of whether you think your team member deserves the increase.

In this case, your reaction should be one of questioning and interest. Ask an open-ended question, one which will bring more information out from your team member if they haven’t already laid out a good case – something like “Tell me some more about that” this will show that you’re not rejecting the request out of hand and gets you more on where they’re coming from. The more information that can be communicated between both parties, the easier it will be on each when any decision is made.

Treat them with respect for asking

There’s usually a fair bit of thought and second-guessing from someone when they’re asking for a raise, so chances are that they’re feeling pretty anxious about the conversation. So acknowledge that what they’re doing takes courage, even if the timing isn’t ideal for you.

This is a two way street; you’re being given the chance to keep them within the company rather than them going out and finding another job..  

Be attuned to indirect requests

Not everyone will come out and say they want a raise. They might drop hints about how hard they’ve been working or even mention that a head hunter called them. Take these indirect signals seriously. Some people don’t feel comfortable making a direct ask e.g. women are far less likely to ask for a raise than men, and you don’t want to lose someone valuable.

Check both sides of the argument

Once the first discussion is done, you have a responsibility to work out what’s next. Is the request justified – in your mind is your team members salary and value are aligned, or do they deserve to be paid more? What’s the correlation to other team members who are contributing in the same way? How important is this individual to the firm? What are the industry benchmarks? How much would it cost to replace this person  in comparison with the increase they’re seeking? And, probably most tellingly – would you do what they’re doing, for the same money as they’re asking for?

What’s the incentive scheme like?

You’ve heard the saying “what gets rewarded gets done”? You want to reward and promote on the basis of meeting challenges and merit, and keep them eager to improve. Work and achievement deserves recognition, but can this be done on a one-time basis?

Where are the boundaries?

Some arguments for a salary increase really don’t stack up. “Oh, I want more because I’m doing the same job as Sally and she’s getting X” is a weak argument from the team member and they’ll probably know it, just as they “I need more money because I’ve got bills to pay” won’t get far either.  

Talk to the people you need to

If you’re not the ultimate decision maker in this, talk to your directors or fellow directors if there are several of you involved in the decision making process; check with recruiters on what the industry standard is for the role being discussed, or check in with colleagues in other agencies who can give some guidance on what’s appropriate.

Be the advocate

It’s often very easy for directors to say no to a request for a salary increase and if you’ve got a top performer and you’re concerned about retention, you’ll want to support the request if you’re the one doing the talking to them.

Make sure you’ve got all the facts with you, put the case clearly and back up your arguments with as much information as you’ve got. They need to believe that the decision is in the best interests of the agency. They also need to know that you’re not going to come back at the next meeting and ask for a raise for another team member so perhaps a whole of business review is the optimum way to approach this.

 Delivering the news

Whether it’s good news or not, the messaging is going to be important . If you’re able to agree to the salary increase, it’s easy to say,  “you’re right that you’re being underpaid.” This can be fraught with dangers, as it’s going to send a message that all everyone needs to do is ask, and they’ll get a payrise. A better approach might be to say that after doing your own research and talking with directors/colleagues etc, you’ve decided that the increase is warranted; this will have them feel that they’ve earned the uplift in pay by showing their value and sets the precedent for others who want the same.

If it’s not good news, be direct about it, don’t dance around the point but just come out and say that it’s not possible/feasible at this stage and give them the reasons. But do not diminish them for asking and keep the door open for future conversations on it.

Set a timeline for the next discussion

If you’ve been knocked back on a request for a payrise, you’ll know how it feels to be told “no”, so this needs to be handled tactfully. Explaining how someone might increase their value to the agency and have a better outcome next time will yield positive result. This might be by setting realistic milestones for them to reach before the next meeting, or by giving them more responsibility within the business, but don’t make rash promises just to placate what will be a disappointed team member, this will just drive the motivation down further. Then, follow through on both the promises and the timeline you’ve discussed.

Next time, I’m going to start to look at the differing ways we can reward our teams – I’ve got some left-field suggestions on this which aren’t in practice in agencies at this stage but could well be in the near future…