It was 5:15 p.m. and Romy Newman — today the Cofounder and President of Fairygodboss and then the leader of a major corporate sales team — was just getting back to her desk. Her day had been stacked with meetings, and she still had a pile of work ahead of her before she could get out the door.
Suddenly, one of her direct reports walked into her office. Without preamble, he announced that seeing as how he’d been working at the company for two years, it was time he got a raise.
“It was bad timing, and I just unloaded,” Newman recalled in a recent conversation with Renessa Boley Layne, founder of the Perfect Work Academy and author of “Fast Lane, Wrong Direction,” a treatise on redesigning success and reclaiming your sense of purpose. “My advice to anyone who’s thinking of asking for a raise is that you have to make the business case for it. You’re asking your company to make a strategic investment in you — so, what’s the reason for it?”
As someone who’s been on the receiving and giving end of countless asks for raises — as well as a female founder who’s deeply invested in seeing women get paid — Newman has some raise-asking strategies she wants women to hear. She recently shared these with Boley Layne as part of the latter’s Creating Your Perfect Work Masterclass Series, and she also advocated that women keep asking for what they want in life and in their careers, even in this climate.
“It’s so easy to fear change and to be saddled with inertia, but you should find joy in the work you’re doing and feel elevated by the work that you’re doing,” she said. “Even now, there’s so much more mobility than you know... I so strongly recommend remaining mobile and looking at your options, because if you’re not remaining elated by the work that you’re doing, you can’t be doing your best work.”
Of course, it isn’t just about doing your best work, but being paid fairly for doing it. To that end, here are five phrases to try out that Newman says any manager would secretly love to hear when being asked for a raise.
Timing counts for a lot. Rather than catching your manager off guard, as Newman’s direct report did, she advises making it clear in advance that getting a raise is something you plan to discuss.
“Give your manager a head’s up that this is important to you,” she said. “If you have a weekly one-on-one, that would be a good time to say, ‘It’s been two years since i’ve had a raise, and I’m really interested in helping you make the case for me to get a raise. I’ll schedule some time on your calendar so that we can discuss it. Does that work?” That way no one gets blindsided, and they know you’re coming to them as a collaborator and not as an adversary.”
This isn’t the same thing as asking permission to have The Raise Conversation, Boley Layne added.
“It’s instead the presumption that we’re going to have this conversation, and here’s how I’m going to ensure it,” she said.
Building off of the first question, Newman made the point that a lot of folks perhaps don’t realize what they’re truly asking of their manager when they ask for a raise.
“In my corporate job, I many times had employees who I wanted to give raises to, and it was very hard for me to get those for them,” she explained. “Whenever I was able to, I was having to expend a great deal of political capital. I had to go out on a limb, and I had to fight for the money.”
In short, even if your manager fully agrees that you deserve a raise, the process of actually procuring one is rarely simple for them. Thus, it pays to acknowledge this in your ask, and to seek out how you can make the process easier for them.
“I think there’s this expectation that someone could turn the ask for a raise right around, and in a large corporation that’s very difficult,” Newman explained.
In addition, you should be paying attention to the business cycle at your particular company, and presenting your ask in a way that naturally fits within it.
“It’s very important to understand and recognize the greater business context and cycle,” Newman said. “Often, companies plan on fiscal year budgets. When does your company award raises and what are the parameters?”
Demonstrating a clear understanding of your company’s cycle, Boley Layne added, will help you position yourself as a true team player — and one who’s worthy of getting paid more.
“It demonstrates that you are committed to the business and the direction that your department is going,” she said. “You’ll begin to be seen as someone who thinks beyond your individual role and your individual tasks and responsibilities and really be seen as someone with foresight. There’s value in being able to position yourself as a contributor in the long haul.”
“You don’t want your manager to have to put together the ‘five points why Vanessa should get a raise,’” Newman said. “You want to go to your manager and clearly document that these are the key reasons why investing in me is worthwhile for you… You have to help your boss want to make the case. What’s in it for them, and why should they put themselves on a limb for you?”
After all, the business you work for is, at the end of the day, a business. For any dollar it invests — whether that’s in a raise for you or in a new office or marketing budget — someone should be “tracking what the return in investment on that dollar is,” Newman said.
“You have to help someone believe that that dollar is better invested in you,” she said. “I would start with recapping the things you’ve accomplished in terms of value. What are the data-driven quantitative numbers that you contributed in the past 12 months?”
To focus only on what you have contributed to date is shortsighted, Newman clarified.
“I think this is also something people miss, is ‘here’s what I WILL contribute in the next 12 months,” she said. “What you’ve already contributed is wonderful, and you should be rewarded for your work. But that’s unfortunately kind of water under the bridge. That should be cited as evidence of what you can achieve, but you should be going in and helping your manager and your manager’s manager understand what you should achieve in the next 12 months.”
Ultimately, it’s about catering your ask to fit the perspective and needs of your manager as much as is humanly possible, Boley Layne said.
“A lot of times we’re looking at it from our perspective: what we know we’ve done, what we think we deserve. And all of those things may very well be true and important, but what’s even more important is the perspective of the person on the other side,” she said. “I can be right, I can be all of these things, but if I’ve created an ultimatum and I haven’t considered you, then I’ve created a perception that may not get me where I want.”
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