• Amii Barnard-Bahn

How can we make pay conversations easier and more effective?

Updated: Oct 26, 2019

(Second in a two-part series on getting paid/salary discussions)

In our last issue, we discussed how to gather compensation data to know whether you are getting paid fairly. In this issue, we discuss how to effectively prepare for the negotiation conversation. 


I’m always surprised at the number of people, from friends and former employees, to past and current clients, who ask for a pay raise without solid preparation. These conversations are often stressful for both you and your boss. But they honestly don’t have to be so difficult if you have the right data and mindset.

Do These Things in Advance:

1. Educate yourself on your company’s approach to compensation. As a former Chief Human Resources Officer, I’ve seen employees burn political capital by aggressively demanding pay increases without taking the time to understand “the way it works”. Some things to know: All companies adopt a compensation philosophy and related pay structure. Some companies are transparent and educate employees about their approach; others are more opaque (In some states like California, pay transparency laws may make inquiries to HR or your manager easier). Ask your manager, HR, or a mentor and learn as much as you can about your company’s approach to pay. Some questions: How do we assign pay for different jobs (e.g. does your company buy salary surveys, how often are pay ranges reviewed against market, does it assign salary ranges for each job)? What is our compensation philosophy (e.g. some companies target the “midpoint” of market pay for jobs; some companies are aggressively competitive for the “best talent’ and pay higher than midpoint)?Know where your position fits into the job family for your professional area (a job family is a series of related job titles that show the progression from junior to senior levels with progressively higher levels of impact, skills, knowledge, and abilities, providing for promotional opportunities over time). This equips you with knowledge regarding how many job levels and promotions are possible in your company’s pay structure. Ask your HR partner or manager. When you ask is important. Find out when pay increases are given. Some companies are strict about the timing of pay increases and formally calendar this twice a year for budgetary reasons (FYI, asking outside these timelines is called an “out of cycle adjustment” in HR lingo and is usually only granted if there is a compelling business case). 


2. Bring relevant data to the bargaining table. Have objective information and specific data points, wherever possible (e.g. My colleague who has my same job at X company that is like ours recently advertised my role at $Y). See my last newsletter for additional information on how to gather salary data.

3. Know where you stand. This is a critical and often overlooked factor in pay raises. All jobs have a pay range, and whether a company pays you on the high or low end will depend on your reputation and perceived value to the organization. It’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t harbor blind spots about your professional reputation. Candid and frequent talks with your boss, formal 360 degree feedback assessments, mentors, and professional coaching can help ensure you and your company view your performance through the same lens. If you don’t have a regular meeting with your boss, ask for one. 

4. Keep the conversation professional. Stay curious and polite, and understand there are legitimate salary limitations and risks that companies have to manage from a legal and fairness standpoint. Ask for what you believe you deserve, but also be in info-seeking mode. And be realistic. The job pay at a pre-IPO startup (quick decisions, less rules) will not be managed the same as an established Fortune 500 (lots of structure and often several layers of approval required). 

5. Money isn’t the only thing of value. If you reach an impasse, probe for benefits elsewhere - such as equity, working remotely, leading a high profile project, reimbursement for a professional certification or degree program, and the like.

6. Establish an ongoing dialogue - not a “once and done”. If your request is deferred or declined, don’t be discouraged. Find out what you would need to do for the request to be reconsidered. What results do you need to deliver? What perceptions or behaviors might you need to address? What special assignments can you take on or skills might you learn to get to the next level? If you can agree on what specific actions you can take to get the raise, you have an action plan to move forward. Note: If your manager can’t respond thoughtfully to this part of the conversation, it might be an indication that you’ve “topped out” and should put more thought into your career next steps.

Your short-term goal may be to get a pay raise, but re-frame this as a longer-term opportunity to learn as much information as possible to chart your career. In the end you need to ask yourself this: What is the likelihood of a pay raise, or a promotion, at this company? How often do people get promoted internally around you? Is this the kind of place you’d like to stay for 3 years? 10? Forever? Compensation discussions can help you think this through.

Risks to Avoid: Over-Negotiating Salary and Candidates Who Blow It 

See my recent interview at Compliance Week, where we discuss how candidates can lose a job offer through overly aggressive behavior.

📷With 2019 Compliance Week co-panelists Kim Yapchai, Heather Fine and Ling-Ling Nie


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