President Obama’s proposal for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 has pundits and economist-types arguing whether or not it’s government’s responsibility to demand raises for workers and what impact, if any, that mandate would have on business’s ability to retain current staff and add headcount. Those in favor claim that businesses are screwing over employees and, therefore, government must step in and force employers to “share the wealth.” As a coach, I’m not going to chime in on the merits of this initiative. I do, however, argue that no matter what the law says, it is, has and always will be up to the employee to prove her own worth and negotiate her compensation.
This may sound easier said than done. First of all, many professionals don’t feel comfortable tooting their own horns. Those that don’t mind it may fear being labeled as conceited and dread the repercussions of that. What’s more, employees in general feel funny about asking for more money, especially when companies are keeping their purse strings tight due to the current economic uncertainty.
But it doesn’t have to be so difficult and torturous. Truth is, the bigger problem is that most employees are not effective in laying out the case for why they are worth higher compensation. The same goes for most top executives, when it comes to dealing with their boards. With the workforce more competitive and complicated than ever, it’s time that professionals figure out how to take charge of their careers. There is a way to broach the subject of worth and compensation in an empowered and professional way.
1. Get over your shyness. If you’re hesitant to promote yourself, it’s because you have some (or a lot) of shyness. Remember, though, that you are a business leader. At this point in your career, no one will pay you what you’re worth if you don’t ask for it. So first, I encourage you to ask yourself what's causing that shyness and then…get over it! Negotiating your compensation is part of being a professional and it shouldn’t be a surprise to your employer if he values the work you do.
2. Frame your worth. And speaking of the value of your work… It’s easy to know in your head what you’re worth to your company. But conveying that worth to your board or your boss can be challenging. This is an exercise I’d recommend doing often, even when you’re not in active pursuit of a raise or promotion. It’s important to always be prepared in the event of a change in circumstances. Think of yourself as a company who is providing a service to your organization rather than an employee. Doing so not only prepares you for this negotiation, it also enhances your approach to your career and can increase your performance. Then ask yourself some questions. Consider the following:
- What service do you provide for your organization?
- Whom do you serve (i.e., clients, internal clients, employees, etc.)?
- How do you provide that service differently or better than others?
- What do you still have to accomplish there?
3. Prepare to negotiate. Remember that you are a business leader. You are at a point in your career where you own your career and should be acting accordingly. Sure, your employer or your board’s compensation committee hold the keys to the money vault. But if you lay out your case clearly, you will make it hard for him to say no. You want to make sure you are prepared, so if need be, spend more time exploring step two.
4. Keep your options open. Nowhere does it say that you can’t leave your job if things don’t work out or if a better opportunity comes along. It’s understandable that the longer you are with an organization and the higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more complicated it becomes to leave. You might have a contract that includes leaving money on the table if you walk away too soon. But there’s no harm in keeping your eyes, ears and options open. Doing so puts you mentally in a better position to negotiate -- not only are you more aware of the market value for your work, but knowing what’s available elsewhere gives you some leverage when negotiating with your employer.
5. Have the talk. Take a deep breath and realize that this is only a tough talk if you make it one. Remember what I said in step 2: You are a business looking for the best clients to serve. Whether you’re looking for a straight increase in salary, a new commission structure or it’s time to renegotiate your contract, you should think of this as a negotiation between a company (you) and his/her client (your employer). Often these conversations go badly for the employee when the employer (or board) feels that they have the upper hand. When you think of it as a negotiation, you actually in some ways level the power playing field.
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