It could be that managers and workers have a different take on what it means to be a top performer, and so they disagree on who should get the corporate spoils.
Most workers think that if they know what their job is and do it well, hitting all their goals on time and within budget, then they're doing a good job and deserve to have raises and bonuses heaped upon them. That would be true in a pure meritocracy. But in the real world, the politics of compensation are not that simple. Here are five keys to increasing your salary and benefits:
1. The boss's priorities rule
From the boss's perch, the biggest raises and plumpest perks go to the people he values the most and doesn't want to lose. These are the people who help him to get things done, meet his goals, and generally look good. In short, your performance and the raise it garners are less about you and all about him.
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This is why leadership expert Rebecca Shambaugh, author of It's Not the Glass Ceiling, It's the Sticky Floor, says that your campaign for a bigger raise starts with finding out what your boss values. Talk to him about it both formally and informally. And talk to people who know the important things happening at your company and your boss's role in them.
"Executives value people who fit in well with them and with the team, who understand the culture and can help them get the results they want," she says. "So find out what's on the top of your boss's mind, and drive your work and your team's work around those things rather than the other things on your agenda that are lower priority for him."
2. You are as good as you say you are
Once you've got your priorities straight, make sure your boss, and anyone else who matters, knows about the great work you're doing for the company. And don't wait for those annual performance reviews to let them know. It's the informal interaction that the boss takes in all year long that creates an impression of who you are and how you fit into his work.
So shoot him e-mails to ask advice or let him know about progress you're making on the work he most values. When you get an e-mail from someone else noting your success or thanking you for help on this work, forward it on.
Be able to speak up at meetings in an informed way about the projects closest to the boss's heart. And when you run into your boss in the elevator or at the water cooler and he asks how it's going, skip the polite, generic small talk. Instead, opt for an upbeat sentence or two that relates how excited you are about work coming up or just completed on one of those coveted projects.
Leadership gurus like Shambaugh call this socializing your agenda. In layman's terms, you're tooting your own horn and laying the groundwork for the formal sit-down discussion about your performance and the salary and bonus it should carry.
3. Know what you want
Compensation is more than just salary. So when it comes time for that sit-down, know what you want and have the data to support it. Know what others in your field receive in terms of pay and other perks, and what the salary range is for your job at your company. Then think about what is important to you. Do you most want a raise, a better bonus, more stock, or something else?
"Talk to others in your organization who know your boss and ask for feedback on your pitch to him," Shambaugh says. "Find out what his points of resistance are going to be so you're prepared to respond to them."
4. Have a plan B
If the raise you want simply isn't going to happen, don't go away empty-handed, Shambaugh says. In its stead, "ask for more training, a trip to an important conference, or Friday mornings off—whatever has value for you."
And suggest a plan for discussing it again in a few months. "No doesn't always mean no. It can mean not right now," she explains. So zero in on why the boss is handing you that "No." If it's not in the budget, let him know what you would like your salary to be when he sets a new budget. If he wants to see you hit a certain milestone before bumping up your pay, then agree to a plan and time frame for getting there.
5. Know when to walk away
Fourteen percent of people who are thinking of leaving their company this year say the desire for better pay is the reason, according to a survey from human resources consulting firm Blessing White. That's twice the number of people who say they are staying because they expect a good raise or bonus.
Sticking by a company through a short financial squeeze or a few rounds of salary freezes doesn't make you a pushover if other aspects of the job work for you.
But the time can come where you just need more money. Or it can become clear that the boss is never going to see you and your value to the team the way you want him to. When that happens, it's not only OK to seek greener pastures; it's the savvy thing to do. Even within the same company, starting over with a new boss gives you a clean slate for establishing who you are and negotiating what you're worth.