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How to Talk to Your Boss About Money

By Adam McClellan, Project Management Professional, Certified ScrumMaster, Six Sigma Greenbelt

"Hey, we need to talk about money."

Did you flinch inside a little when you read that? If so, you're not alone.

Despite the fact that money is what brings us into work day after day, it's a subject that we typically want to dodge. And that's unfortunate. While happiness with one's compensation isn't the only indicator of overall job satisfaction, it can make a big difference between feeling appreciated or overlooked, rewarded or stuck, committed or escapist.

One of the best ways to increase your satisfaction with your compensation is to increase the amount of control that you have over it. That inevitably means getting comfortable talking with your boss about money.

There is no foolproof set of rules that guarantees you will get the exact compensation you want, but there are a number of things you can do to improve your conversational skills on the topic.

 

Update your resume before you start the discussion.

This serves a couple of key purposes. First of all, it's going to help you refresh on the big picture of your career: your accomplishments, your skills, and for that matter, any holes or soft spots. This enables you to more clearly articulate what you've brought to your organization-and what you can bring going forward. Secondly, it should remind you that the job you're currently in isn't the only one for you. Other possibilities are always out there, and that should give you reassurance going into the conversation.

 

Know that quiet good work isn't always enough.

Without a doubt, solid performance is a great foundation for good compensation. But it's not always enough, particularly if your manager is overwhelmed (as many managers are) and may not notice the details of your work. And, if no one's telling them how great it is, they're going to assume that you just haven't set fire to anything. That equates to average performance, and average performance gets rewarded with inertia-level compensation-sometimes not even that. Make sure that your manager knows prior to your conversation the quality of the work you've been doing. Feel free to reinforce as necessary during the discussion.

 

Play the long game.

The only time that money is a quick give-and-take is when you're being wooed into a new job. Once you're there, the question of your compensation becomes part of the ebb and flow of the company's calendar and financial cycles. That means you need to show patience and persistence in your conversations with your boss. Set the stage over a course of months by asking questions like "What do you need to see from me that you're not seeing?" and "Where do you want me to focus on delivering value for the team?" Then not only follow through, but call out the fact that you're following through.

 

Set a target range.

Don't fixate on a single number. Instead, give yourself a spectrum of compensation to shoot for. Set the top end as the amount that would have you walking around the office smiling for a week; set the bottom at the minimum "step in the right direction" that gives you some amount of satisfaction that your work is valued. Then, see where the conversation takes you. If the first conversation doesn't get you into the range of happy, set the stage for future conversations that will.

 

Have your data ready to deploy.

Money may be an emotional topic, but facts drive the discussion. So have some good ones in your arsenal. How does your pay stack up to other people in your role across the industry? Within your area? What has your salary path been since joining the company? For that matter, without naming names, how does your pay compare to that of other people in the same role across your enterprise? Paint a compelling financial landscape, and show how your place in it should be higher than it is. Of course, if the facts don't support your stand, think long and hard before raising the topic.

 

Go for the win-win.

Don't think of salary discussions as a zero-sum game. A good outcome should leave both parties happy: you get an amount that makes you feel more valued and brings you closer to your own financial goals, and your employer gets someone with a greater sense of drive and commitment to the organization. Here again, playing the long game helps. Get your manager thinking about your value throughout the year, and make it clear that you're thinking about your value, too.

 

Know when to end the conversation.

Look for the sweet spot here: not too soon and not too late. Don't be put off by any initial resistance or "not now" messages. This is the long game, remember? Keep the conversation going at least long enough to make it clear that this is a topic that matters to you and to get a commitment to the right time to discuss it. On the other end of the range, be aware that this is a conversational area where out-and-out persistence quickly becomes annoying and then worse. Don't be the bitter-ender who desperately tries to maximize the net dollars gained by inserting each of your ten value-adds into the conversation. Instead, watch for the cues that tell you the conversation is coming to its natural end (eye contact wandering elsewhere, non-committal responses, arms crossed, out-and-out statements like "we're done here"), and respect them.


It's business. Not personal.

There may have been a time in which companies boosted their employee's paychecks to account for personal events like getting married or having kids, but for most organizations, those days are past. So, don't lead your case for more money with a projection of your upcoming disposable diaper expenses or a copy of your daughter's first tuition bill. At most, you'll want to have this info in your back pocket as a card to play should the conversation take a personal turn. Base your story on your value to the organization. What are you doing to make your team better? What is it about your mix of skills and personality traits that makes you uniquely valuable to your organization? And, where are you going above and beyond the call of your job description?


Remember, this is about conversation, and conversations aren't processes; they're more diffuse and unpredictable-an art rather than a science. So again, while none of this is foolproof, deploying the guidelines above will at least give you the footing you need to move the conversation in the right direction.