Master the Compensation Conversation

Mastering the Compensation ConversationEvery year, like clockwork, many companies begin notifications about the annual performance process and, based on what I’ve heard from NYWICI members and others in my network, a significant number of us begin a mad dash to pull together a self-assessment but only a few, relatively speaking, take the next step and proactively engage their manager in a conversation about their compensation expectations. And that’s simply not acceptable. As daunting as it may be, the compensation conversation is one of those “must-haves” that each and every one of us must master if we truly want to own our career and ensure our financial health.

To help you prep and speak with clarity, confidence and conviction, let me share the insights from three savvy women who clearly know their own worth about approaching this must-have conversation:

  • When talking about compensation, remember that it’s not about you and what you need, deserve or want. It’s about what you contribute to your organization and what value that contribution provides, advises Lindsey Pollak, author, corporate consultant and internationally recognized expert on next generation career and workplace trends.  
  • Keep an inventory of your successes, says Philadelphia-based author, blogger and speaker Selena Rezvani. “There’s an old saying in the HR community that still rings true today: ‘Managers have short memories,’” she added. “To effectively persuade any busy authority figure, take it upon yourself to first do your own self-evaluation. Compile a list of accolades, duties you’ve assumed outside your role, and projects you’ve personally spearheaded, including the extent to which others depend on you. If you’re someone who worries you’ll look like you’re bragging, you can keep your self-promotion fact based. For example, if you brought in $20,000 in repeat business, 10 new client projects, or saved the company 3% of operating costs, assemble those facts and be prepared to stand behind them.”
  • Do “scenario planning” before you make your ask, recommends Marie Raperto, owner of Cantor Integrated Marketing Staffing and author of the THEHIRING-HUB blog. Selena elaborated, “You’d be amazed how many people approach a raise request with one narrow goal, thereby limiting their chances of getting ‘yes.’ You can prepare for the possibility of resistance by creating a list of multiple compensation options that would satisfy you, such as less money but more vacation time.” For instance, Lindsey suggests being prepared to counter, “I understand there was no budget for raises this year, but you said you were very pleased with my performance. Would it be possible to receive some Fridays off this winter?”
  • Prepare and rehearse your presentation, advises Marie, who also suggests preparing a list of questions your boss might ask in response to your “ask” and think about how you will respond. The more prepared you are, the more confidently you will speak — and that can make all the difference in how your boss responds.
  • Time your ask carefully, strongly emphasized all three experts. “There are timing circumstances,” added Selena, “that can act as a propeller, advancing your pay request, or serve as an anchor, weighing down and stagnating your ask. Don’t ignore them!” All three experts recommend avoiding high-stress times, days when your boss is clearly in a bad mood, or around lunch when hunger could be a distraction. Selena and Lindsey agree that one of the best moments to time your request is when you have the most leverage: for example, once you’ve just finished a critical project. The same thing goes for repeat business you brought in, accolades you brought the company, or efficiencies you created to save money.
  • Ask deepening questions, encourages Selena. She explains, “If you feel — as many of us do — that you’ve hit a dead end while negotiating, see what you can do to ‘expand the pie.’ Is there something else you could ask for? Is there a tie-in that would make your current request easier to say ‘yes’ to? Is there something very low cost or low effort that you can offer that would go a long way in your boss’ eyes? Realize that your understanding of the other side equates to power and advantage in a negotiation. Getting in the habit of asking deepening questions can give you just the intelligence and insight needed to move a discussion forward. Doing so buys you time, sheds light on the other person’s constraints and circumstances, and helps you craft a more creative, tailored deal that suits all parties.” Some examples Selena cited include: “What is most important to you? Can you explain why?” Or “How could I help you feel more comfortable with this request?” and “Is that the best you can do? Can you say more about why that’s the case?”
  • Make strides to humanize the discussion, suggests Selena. “If you’re getting resistance, you might elicit empathy from the other side by saying something like, ‘Put yourself in my shoes…’ or ‘Try to understand my position.’ You can also ask, ‘Can you do any better?’’ When asked such direct questions, our instinct is often to try a little harder to help the other side. The more you can paint a vivid picture of your role and position, the more successful you’ll be in getting the other side to flex to your needs.

What if you don’t get the raise you are looking for? Lindsey recommends using the disappointment as an opportunity for information and planning. “Talk to your boss about why you didn’t get the raise (in as positive a way as possible!) and start to develop a game plan for getting that raise in the future. Try your best to get your manager to give you very specific, tangible goals so you can track your success and use that as leverage when your next review comes around.”

—Linda Descano


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