Six Steps to Asking For a Raise Right

I freely admit I have a bit of a Joker problem.

OK fine. Maybe it’s more than “a bit.”

I am far from an educated film critic, but as far as I’m concerned, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the infamous Batman villain in “The Dark Knight” is the single best written, filmed and performed character in the history of cinema.

I have spent and will continue to spend copious amounts of time free-falling down YouTube rabbit holes that examine the character and offer sometimes zany theories as to his origins or motivations.

Fully recognizing that a psychopathic villain in face paint is not a good person from whom to extract life strategies, I nonetheless offer up this little nugget:

‘If You’re Good at Something, Never Do It For Free’

No relative or family friend has ever expected, say, a rocket scientist to help him get something into space. No Amazon warehouse stocker has ever been asked to use the skills she’s learned to help organize her BFF’s closet. No OBGYN has been asked to swing by on the weekend to deliver her cousin’s child — ya know, if you’ve got the time and are bored.

Marketing folks regularly get asked to do stuff for no compensation other than continued friendship or a place at the Adults table on Thanksgiving.

Sure, we can design those party invitations for you or put together that website for your new certainly-not-a-multilevel-marketing-scheme business venture. We just don’t necessary want to do it after using those skills at work all week — and we certainly don’t relish the idea of working for free..

Offer us a little money? Well, now the game has changed.

‘Show Me The Money’ That I’ve Earned

So here’s the deal: Very, very few of us would do what we do for a living if we weren’t getting paid. Even more of us would be at least mildly irritated to discover we are not being objectively being paid a “fair wage.” (More on how you figure that out in a minute.)

Oh, sure, if money were not an issue, we might do what we do now for a while. But the first time someone plays office politics with us or is snippy over a perceived wrong beyond our control? Well, there’s a golf course or craft store that doesn’t play politics or get snippy for no good reason.

I truly envy those people who say they love what they do so much that they would continue doing it even if they weren’t getting paid. Of course, I’ve never actually met one of these people. These claims don’t stand up to even the most basic inquiry. Ask them to think about the most annoying thing that happened to them in the workplace in the past month — week, even — and you’re likely to draw out of them a more honest response than their initial one.

The closest I have found to an exception to this rule are people who consider themselves healers of some sort. And these folks are taken advantage of more often by friends and family leeching off their skills than any other group out there.

The simple truth is that money matters to some degree to just about all employees — manager or rank-and-file. Getting paid a fair wage based on the market for the talents we bring and the work we produce (quantity and quality) speaks to an innate sense of fairness … of “right-ness.

Sure, we should accept less-than-fair wages when times are tough, either on the business or the economy. I spent many years doing exactly that when I was dodging the angel of death in the newspaper industry.

But when times aren’t so lean and the business or industry is doing well and you’re contributing in a demonstrable way to that success?

The problem I’ve seen throughout my career is that people approach talking with their supervisor about a salary increase with emotion. And typically, those conversations don’t go well.

Now, I love emotions. I’m an emotional guy. Whatever I feel, I tend to feel it more intensely than the average bear.

But approach my supervisor with an emotional argument about why I deserve a raise? No thank you. There is no place for emotions when talking about a raise. If you can’t make a factual case for a salary increase, stand down. The business doesn’t care about your feelings.

A Case Study in Successfully Asking for Raise

When I was a newspaper publisher, I hired a graphic artist at the rate allowed at the time by my company, which is to say “under market value.” He and I knew this issue going in, and he accepted the job because he needed one to support his family.

He then came in and performed far, far, far better than anyone expected him to perform. He knew this. I knew this.

So one day about six months in, he asked me if I had time in the near future to talk about his salary. We made an appointment for after deadline on the following Tuesday over lunch.

After our meal, he asked for a raise. He did so respectfully and, most importantly, he came armed with data. In a pre-Internet age, he had done his research to find out the average salary for a graphic artist for a weekly paper in a college town in the Midwest. He also pointed out the money the paper had saved because of his productivity, which had enabled us to delay filling an open position. And, finally, he detailed the bump in revenue we’d seen because of increased advertising from existing customers thanks to the work he was producing. It was the old trickle-down effect; his ads were such an improvement over her predecessor’s work that our customers were seeing an increase in revenue, part of which they were putting back into advertising in our paper.

And that was making me, the publisher, look good, too.

My graphic artist had made a great case, one I could take to my boss and objectively support. The right thing to do was to stand up and fight for my employee to be paid what his research showed he should be paid.

So I did.

He got his raise, and we kept a great graphic artist on staff, until he rightfully earned a promotion to the daily paper. He was with the company until his untimely death from a car accident.

Six Steps to Take to Ask For a Raise Right

Asking for a raise is easy if you do it the right way. It must be done without emotion, and the feedback you get from your “ask” can reveal a lot about your company and your future with it.

Here’s how to do it:


Step 1: Know Your Worth

Before you even think about asking for a raise, you first have to see if the market supports your case. You could do all the other steps, but if, in doing this one, you find out you live in a place where the salary range for your position doesn’t support what you think you might be worth, you’re not in a position to ask for anything.

The Internet is an amazing place. Besides providing a safe-haven for all sorts of whackadoodles and courage for keyboard warriors, it offers us sites like Salary.com. The service was started in 1999, and I love the motto behind it:

“We believe everything works better when you get pay right. Because when pay is fair, trust grows.”

Bingo!

Employees do not want to believe their companies are taking advantage of them — of their time and their talents. Creative folks especially hate this because, when we conjure up our latest magic, we’re delivering part of our soul. Or, at least, that’s how it feels.

Compensation out of line with what the market calls ‘fair’ gives rise to a gap between employer and employee. And the good thing for the employer is … it doesn’t have to be this way!

So use this service. You can get what you need from it for free. Find a job descriptions pretty close to the work you actually do. That enables you to see what you should be paid based on your location, education, experience and more.

Find that your salary is out of step with this empirical data? Proceed…


Step 2: Know Your Value

Once you know your worth to your industry in your geographic location, you have a good idea of what you can realistically expect to find should you start a job search. That’s valuable information to stash in your back pocket should the need arise in Step 6.

Now, you need to figure out what your value is to your company.

This is where most people fall back into emotional arguments to make their case. Just don’t.

Find a dollar amount that shows your financial impact on the company. Yes, even creative marketing types can do this. No, this number won’t necessarily be precise. But you can make a good-faith effort.

What has the company invested in your training? What have you done to help the company save money and how much has it saved? What have you done to bring in new revenue above what your predecessor did/could do? What’s that number? Add it all up and you have an objective total of what your value has been to the company over a certain period of time.

Then factor in the things you do above and beyond your job description that make you excellent. That might mean you have to start over with Step 1 and do your Salary.com research with a different job title that better reflects your actual contribution.

Take the time to do that work. Then you’re ready to proceed.


Step 3: Put Together Your Case

Resist the temptation to skip this step and barge right into your boss’s office and demand a raise. That’s a sign of an emotion-based argument.

So just chill. Sit with it a few days. Buy yourself an ice cream. Make sure those worked-up emotions are gone.

While you’re chillin’, put together a report with all the cold, hard facts. Detail the information you’ve learned. Make a few graphs. Source everything so your boss can go look for himself and reach the same conclusion you reached objectively.

Then think about some co-workers who can speak directly to your value. Put their contact information in the report and detail your relationships with them. Look for a diverse group of colleagues who can paint an accurate picture of who you are, what you do and the value you bring. Invite your supervisor to talk to them. Good organizations create an environment in which 360-degree feedback is valued and encouraged.


Check Out This Post From ‘Ya Pay Peanuts’ About 360-Degree Feedback

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In doing all of this, remember: Do. Not. Be. Emotional. The words “I feel” should never come close to your report. You are beholden to the facts, which are objective truths with which no rationally thinking person can argue. “The data show…” is your new best friend.

Once you’ve assembled your report and taken a few more deep breaths, it’s time for the next step.


Step 4: Make Your Case

Do your best to find a mutually agreeable time to sit down with your supervisor and deliver your report — again, without emotion. Do not do this while sitting opposite your boss on the other side of his desk. This is a conversation between professionals, not a child asking her mom for permission to go out on with her friends Friday night. Take away any potential for powerplays.

Sometimes finding a good time is difficult. And sometimes your boss, knowing what’s coming, will make it difficult to find a time. That’s fine. It’s good data.

Whatever you do, deliver your report calmly and factually. Remember, these facts are not in dispute. They are accepted pieces of data from independent sources. In reality, you’re not making the case. The data is making the case for you. You’re simply the messenger.

If your supervisor has any questions about the data, clarify things for him. If he pushes back, invite him to show you data that contradicts yours — and be prepared to eat some humble pie if you have erred. Maybe there’s room for compromise. But if you’ve done things right, there isn’t room for one thing: the situation to remain the same.

Not because you say so. Because the data says so.

Be prepared for pushback. What you’re doing is an inconvenience in your supervisor’s life. He now has to (or, at least, should) address the data you provided and attempt to correct the situation. That sometimes involves running your request up the chain of command, often to people who don’t know you as well as your supervisor does. In fact, these people might be the very ones who set up the payrate that is out of line with the position’s worth in the marketplace.

So don’t rush it. Give him a reasonable amount of time to do the right thing. Two or three weeks is a good starting point to wait to hear, at minimum, a progress report.


Step 5: Observe What Happens Next

Now you need to be Sherlock Holmes and observe everything.

What happens in the wake of your talk? Does your supervisor stand up and say, “Thank you for your efforts in putting this together. Let me see what I can do for you,” and then demonstrate that she’s taking the initiative to act on your behalf? In other words, is she being your champion and moving your fact-driven case forward, as a good supervisor should do when given objective data.

Or does she put forward reasons why your request is out of line, out of bounds, out of touch with organizational realities or other such things that are 100 percent not your fault and 100 percent out of your control?

Remember, you presented a factual case. If you did your research, it is not out of line to ask for an increase to bring your salary in line with your worth and value, and the amount you asked for is not out of bounds. If organizational realities make correcting this pay gap an issue, the hope is that you (and others like you with objective, fact-driven cases) are creating an incentive for management to professionally and (somewhat) proactively address the systemic issues.

That incentive is called “Brain Drain,” Good employees will be successfully poached by more nimble companies who are more responsive in fixing issues that breed mistrust and who, bottom line, pay an objectively fair wage. Your company will get a reputation as a place that takes advantage of good people — whether it’s fair or not. That will make hiring good people challenging. And that will affect the bottom line far more than paying good people objectively fair wages.

So while you’re doing all this observing, keep doing your job — and do it well. No purposeful work slowdowns to try to drive home a point. That’s emotional and sophomoric. Remember what put you in a position to ask for the increase in the first place .


Step 6: React

Scenario 1: Congrats! Your boss stepped up and did the right thing, becoming your advocate to correct the situation, and you got the raise! There’s no better feeling than having the company recognize your value with more than just words but with actual actions and dollars to correct a situation that otherwise would have sowed distrust. Take her out for a beer and celebrate!

Scenario 2: Oh. Wait. You didn’t get the raise? Or they told you they’d “look into it” and would “get back to you” but haven’t in a reasonable amount of time? (Again, give it at least two or three weeks of observation before you inquire.)

Now you’ve got a decision to make.

You have concrete evidence of your worth, and you can objectively demonstrate your value to your current employer, Do you want to take this information and start a job search?

You are entirely within your right to do so. Through its actions (or inaction), your company has delivered a message, one that might be painful to hear, but a message nonetheless. At best, that message is: “You’re not valued enough to be a priority to fight for.” At worst, it is: “This woman’s got no clue what she’s talking about.”

And they’re entitled to either version. You are also entitled to stand up for yourself.

So what should you do? Here’s a tip: Start back at Step 1.

See if you’ve made any errors. Take the stance of your skeptical supervisor and see if there’s a valid reason for her to see things so differently from how you see them. Ask yourself why she might not be willing to champion your cause when it is objectively there to make. After all, you’ve made it so much easier on them to do the right thing!

Take your evidence to another respected business professional — not someone in your company and certainly not to the organization’s malcontent. You’re not looking for a Yes Man here, and you’re not looking to stir up any trouble. You’re looking for someone who can and will try her best to poke holes in your case.

This should be extremely difficult if you’ve done your homework.

Once you’ve run through the steps two or three times, act. You ain’t gettin’ any younger, and if you’re continuing to do your job as well as you have been, your value is only going up. Stay and drop the issue, or get that resume all polished and shiny (or, more likely, call back some of those recruiters who are knocking on your door).

The Joker, Revisited

So yeah, despite the Joker’s advice, I still do stuff for free.

I try to limit it to close family and the best of friends. Everyone else gets my standard spiel about my hourly rate and the knowledge that I’m willing to give them a steep “Friends and Family” discount that can become even more steep with the ceremonial presentation of good bacon or better whiskey.

My son recently asked me if he could start a dog walking business. Sure thing, kid. No bacon or whiskey required. (Though I did ask him to clean his room.)

I made him a flyer …

… and a website.

And I didn’t even ask him for a cut of the profits! Sometimes it pays to have a dad who does marketing.

John Agliata has been in the professional world for nearly 30 years, first as a newspaper journalists and then as a marketing and communications expert. He can be reached at johnagliata@gmail.com.


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I have interviewed hundreds of people during my career, everyone from professional athletes and presidential candidates to the woman promoting a charity bake sale. This past week, I interviewed my wife. Her dad — my amazing father-in-law — died early Sunday morning after a two-month fight with COVID and other complications. I sit here now, […]

The Insane Mr. Powers

His name was Fenton Powers, and my first impression of him was that he was insane. I was a newly minted middle schooler in suburban New York, reveling in the bigness of not only changing classrooms after an actual bell rang but, for my Spanish class, actually changing buildings. Anything could happen in those 40 […]

Patrick Ewing in a Jock Strap

When I was a wee-little storyteller of 17 years, I had the opportunity to go to the New York Knicks training camp to interview their rookie point guard, Greg Anthony. At 6’0″, I was able to look eye-to-eye with the just-out-of-UNLV star while I talked with him in the weight room. Five feet away, a […]

Mission: Operating Room

One day back when your storyteller was still Newspaper Guy, I was sitting in my office one late afternoon editing the work of my reporters for the next day’s paper. It was the end of April in Minnesota, which meant the once-mountainous piles snow were down to about 2-foot-tall rounded mounds of filthy, pebble-strewn ice. […]

Remembering Misti: It’s not about how she died; it’s about how she lived

“Her name was Misti, but to those who lived around her in her Fairfield apartment complex, she was River Rat.” That was more or less how I started the story I wrote about the 8-year-old girl’s death back in July 1997. I was just more than a year out of college and was the editor […]

Telling the Tales of Torment

Shari’s message was one of five on my voicemail when I returned to the office after a COVID-inspired work-from-home quarantine. She told me she was one of our hospital’s first scoliosis patients 43 years ago, and, after seeing the patient stories during our recent telethon, she wanted to give back and start volunteering. Because of […]

Thing 1 and Thing 2 of Shriners Hospital St. Louis

When storytellers tell their stories, they don’t often beat you over the head with the lesson you should take away from their work. No author — be it of a 1,000-page novel or a 300-word article — says, “This is how I want you to think differently once you’re finished reading.” There are several reasons […]

Storytellers sometimes break the rules (and that’s OK!)

On my second day of work here at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis, I received an email from our HQ in Tampa that Care Managers Week was coming up in October and asking us to do something on it. So I set about researching what Care Managers do and what this week was […]

Storytellers vs. Content Writers (and why your business wants the first one)

All storytellers can be content writers. Not all content writers can be storytellers. And if you’re running a business or a marketing department, you most definitely want storytellers. So what’s the difference? There are many, but the key one is the focus. Content writers are fine. The good ones will produce lots of copy that […]

Stuff You Learn From Doctors, Episode 1

Doctors are smart people. Those whom I have met during my first two weeks at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis have impressed me, yes, with their competency, but even more so with their passion and compassion. I already have learned so much from these doctors. My education in things such as limb-lengthening procedures […]

The Jenga Kid

Sometimes stories just don’t work out. You can do all the right preparation, educate yourself on what is to be discussed, show up at the right time with all the right equipment and BAM! This story you knew had tremendous potential just disappears. That happened this week. I had planned to tell a story about […]

The Other Side of the Door

I stood in the hallway outside a patient exam room and took a deep breath. On the other side of that door was the first potential story of a new chapter in my life. It was odd. I have been in the patient exam room of medical facilities in no fewer than six states during […]

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