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How to Ask for (and Get) a Raise

June 2014

6 Tips to Help Leaders Self-Advocate a Salary Increase

Roxi Hewertson

Roxi Hewertson

For many people in leadership roles, asking for a raise is a lot like asking for a root canal. You know you should do it, but is it worth the pain?

When one takes on more and more responsibility at work, even including a leadership role and oversight over significant, high stakes budgets, it’s not uncommon to wonder if/when/how the salary will be commensurately adjusted to compensate for the additional work and heightened accountability. All too often, however, a leader’s superior is inexplicably surprised when the question of a raise is posed.

While it can be awkward and uncomfortable, leaders in business must make themselves a priority and seek compensation that is being duly earned. The salary increase conversation must be given the time it – and you as one in a critical managerial role – deserves. But, while you must ask for what you want and need, reality is you also need to be prepared to prove your leadership worth to assert exactly why you deserve it.

Here are six tips to help managers and others in business leadership roles self-advocate with less, or optimally no, pain – because your story will be clear, clean and compelling:

1. Know your work-self.
Make sure you are 100 percent sure that the job you are doing as a leader is actually worthy of a salary increase. To do this effectively, you need to build a case. Ask your boss, peers, customers and direct reports for feedback about what you are doing well and what you can do better. Write down what they say and keep a log. Another part of knowing yourself at work is discerning what you are and are not willing to do for that raise. Will there be longer hours, is there travel, do you have to manage others? Be prepared to put your superior’s mind at ease that, as a leader wholeheartedly committed to the operation, you’re willing to step up and commit to the extent necessary to justify.

2. Know your industry.
Gain awareness of your and your job’s value in the marketplace and get the facts about what others in your same leadership position are being paid – both in your own company and industry-wide. Such human resource statistics are readily available. Search, and job sites like and for a similar job to yours or the job you want to be doing. Identify the education/experience/competencies needed to be qualified, and then do some “mining” of the data that’s out there on the Internet. If the actual managerial function you are doing is paid, on average, and at market rate, more than you being paid, you now have more objective data that will serve as a fundamental basis for your conversation with the boss – especially when key factors like education, tenure and performance are equal.

3. Know your value.
Ensure your managerial work is adding tangible value to your company/organization and be prepared to prove it with simple, clear words … and numbers. Always speak to quantifiable results – behavioral and business. Your behaviors are critical to your success; do you motivate others extraordinarily well, foster team building, help others succeed and think outside the box? What about your business results? What fiscal value are you adding to the bottom line? Are you helping lower expenses, increase sales beyond forecast, operate with green business practices? This dual question – behavior and business results – will help you gather the data you need. When you reframe for yourself this way, you can be far more objective, detached even, and then develop your conversation as if you were making a confident and well-supported business case.

4. Know your audience.
Understand how your superior needs to hear things and consider how you, as a leader yourself, would like to be approached. Does he or she like just the facts, conceptual framework, objectivity and ideas? What’s the best way to speak to your boss or to ask your boss about anything of importance? If you don’t know, you’re missing the boat. How you ask is as important as what you ask for in the meeting. And know your timing. Don’t have this conversation in the midst of a crisis, on Friday afternoon, just before you or your boss goes on vacation, or when it’s a surprise topic. Have it when you are prepared and when the boss has been given a head’s up that you’d like to discuss changes/new expectations/results in your role. Make it your only agenda item and keep the conversation clear, clean and objective. Remember, it helps to imagine you are advocating for someone else who you wholeheartedly believe deserves this raise.

5. Know your system.
As a leader it’s incumbent upon you to know how and when your company or organization allows for raises. Is there a new job description needed? Is there a pay scale system that can back you up? Are raises only given once a year or are there bonuses, added responsibility methods, etc.? Talk to your HR people to learn the ropes for salary increases – what is possible within the context of your system.

6. Know your motivation.
Finally, if you’re feeling undervalued and underpaid, ask yourself some hard questions as to exactly why this might be. Is it how you are treated by your superior or regarded by the board of directors, or is it the actual pay rate that’s the problem? Sometimes these get confused. Is it relationship or money or both? Are you trying to be fairly compensated or really attempting to prove a point? Detaching the emotion and looking at the situation objectively is critical.

Leaders must be their own advocates, so it helps to reframe the thought process. This isn’t about you as much as it is about the job. Yes, as a leader, you certainly have everything to do with the way the job is being done every day. No question. However, when you take all the emotion out of it, depersonalize it and quantify the conversation with hard facts and figures, you are simply talking to your boss about the business value of the job you happen to be doing. As with most business deals and decisions, this should be a logical data driven conversation, not an emotional one.

Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through, Roxi – “the Dear Abby of Leadership” – imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success. I95