Power dynamics matter: How to ask for a raise, promotion effectively

Executive coach Liz Bentley explains how women can successfully ask what they need and maintain power at work.
Liz Bentley is the founder and president of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs.
Liz Bentley is the founder and president of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs.Travis W Keyes

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By Liz Bentley

It’s important to know how to navigate the subtle power dynamics that play out in companies. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to have some power and control over your career and position. What this translates to is being “in demand.” Following the basic rules of supply and demand, you have to create a demand for your skills and talents that others want. This will give you the power to ask for your needs, especially if they are not being met.

While that sounds simple, it’s not. Creating a demand for your skill set on a basic level means you understand the needs of a changing market, you constantly update your skills to meet those needs, and you build relationships with influencers and decision makers that impact your industry and team. To create demand, you need to stay relevant and offer services, insights and/or abilities that others need or want — and in some cases feel they can’t survive without. But one of the big factors weighing in on this equation is personal opinion. And personal opinion is subjective! There are a lot of outside and historical factors that influence our opinions – sometimes unfairly.

When you are in a position to ask for a need – such as a raise, promotion, time off or the ability to work remotely – it can be tricky. As the person asking, you are starting from a position of weakness because you are requesting something that has not been voluntarily given. However, while the deciding party initially wields the power, they still need individuals and teams to accomplish their goals. And in this case, while you do have to make the ask, you (hopefully) have something they want too.

For this reason, you need to bring your value to their attention while also trying to maintain your position of power. Here is a quick guide on how to do it effectively:

1. Know your personal value.

First make sure you actually deserve whatever it is you’re asking for. For example, just because you want to make more money doesn’t mean you deserve to make more money. I coach many bosses who are approached by employees who say they need more money because their personal costs are too high. This is not a reason for a raise, but it may mean you need to cut back on your lifestyle. To get clarity on your value, think about your demand. What do you have that the team, company and clients need? What do you offer that you feel is unique, important and could be leveraged more effectively? Help the decision makers see the return on investment they will make from investing in you.

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2. Know the marketplace value.

What is the norm for your job/career in your field? You do not always need to follow these norms but they are good benchmarks to know. For example, if you are a lawyer and the range for your type of work is $500 an hour (and you want to raise your rates to $600) then you need to know what makes your service more valuable. Knowing the average rate helps you position yourself differently.

3. Be confident.

You keep your power by believing in yourself. The only person you are able to work on is the one in the mirror so believe in that person and don’t be afraid to speak your truth.

4. Have a backup plan.

Backup plans can range from leaving for another job to asking for something else instead like a bonus, time off, flexible schedule, or client entertaining budget. There are other ways to have your needs met so know what your needs are and how you could supplement and be creative to arrive at a solution that feels good.

5. Project your future value.

Getting a raise is about making an investment in someone not just for today but for the future. Most companies want people who will stay with them for the long haul and grow. Project your power by showing what you can not only do today but how you will create great impact over the long term.

6. Get your ego out of the way.

This is a business and it’s about productivity and success. While it is also run by people and can feel personal, don’t expect any favors. You are here to serve so show your value and confidence but don’t be arrogant and always ask for and listen to feedback.

7. Read your audience.

It’s not all about you. Having success in this quest is about understanding who you are talking to and their desires and bigger picture objectives. Timing on asking for needs can be very important as well as predicting the response of your boss and knowing how to work to favorable outcomes. So think through your boss’s personality type and how they best respond to these conversations and then set up your approach.

Don’t be afraid to ask for your needs but be aware of the power dynamics that play out in the organization so that you can get what you’re asking for with success and make the organization better all around.

Liz Bentley is the founder and president of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs. She is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and executive coach to top leaders and teams across a broad range of industries