On my earlier posting (How to Make More Money), reader Svetla posed a comment with a list of six challenges that she believes prevent her from making more money at her job. After describing an abominable skinflint of a boss, she asks how she might justify a raise in the following situations. It’s a thought-provoking question that deserves a bit of space to discuss…

I’m going to try some short, fast suggestions for Svetla’s list. The challenge I throw right back is, if Svetla can work up a specific approach based on just one of my comments, then maybe she should give me a raise ;-)

Please check Svetla’s comments on the other posting so you’ll better understand her list.

What should you do about getting a raise when:

1. There is a set budget for your position or department.

My suggestion: Identify something your employer would really like to have more of. (Good ideas? Detailed lists of implementation steps for new projects? Faster turnaround time on reports?) Figure out a way to deliver it within your job. (Come on — put your thinking cap on. This could be worth money.) Make delivering it contingent on getting paid more. The added value you create should offset the higher compensation. If your boss orders you to take your list and implement it without additional pay, take it to his competitor and ask for more pay. (See also my response to 4. below.)

2. There is no direct link between your work and the bottom line.

My suggestion: I think this is never true in a healthy company. In cases where it is true, your job should be deleted for obvious reasons, or you should quit soon because your company is in a death spiral. In your post, you explained that your “cost center job” actually yields revenue improvements. I believe you. The connection is actually pretty obvious, if not defined in detail. That your boss doesn’t measure how your work yields profit and success for the business doesn’t mean there is no link. You showed that there is. So my suggestion is to find a different employer. Never work with jerks.

3. Your boss is unable to make the link between your work and the bottom line.

My suggestion: Then you must teach him. Put together a business plan and a spreadsheet that explains the links and estimates the yields in dollars. Your numbers won’t be accurate, but your assumptions should be defensible. If your boss refuses to learn, then you must turn him in or move on. Imagine what the board of directors would say to your boss if he looked them in the eye and stated that he does not know of any link between an employee’s work and the bottom line. If you move on to another company, consider sending your presentation to the chairman of the board at your old company, with your compliments. Close with a succinct comment about how you quit because your boss didn’t see the connection you just showed them. Offer to accept your old job back if they fire the boss and double your old salary.

4. You are giving more than the organization asks you to.

My suggestion: This is up to you. If that’s how you get your jollies, then don’t ask for more money. Otherwise, prepare a biz plan that shows how your job pays off, and how you will make it pay off even more next year. Put a quote on the project. (Ask for more money.) A rational manager will analyze your claims, test your ability to deliver, and gladly pay. Or you must quit and move on. I think the best way to actually attempt this is by offering a monthly deliverable in exchange for a monthly performance bonus. That way the company isn’t out a dime unless it gets what it wants. This is worth attempting only if you’ve got a solid written agreement that defines the terms and the payout. Mark my word: More companies will be doing this sooner rather than later. Those that do will blow away their competition.

5. Your boss refuses to give you credit for the work you have done.

My suggestion: Credit is part of pay. I know people who are paid a lot but get no credit. They don’t care. They want money. Some people value acknowledgement and accolades more than money. It takes all kinds to run a business. You’re saying you’re not getting either kind of compensation to an adequate degree. So it’s time to lay it out to your boss, or to his boss, and be ready to move on if they won’t compensate you fairly. Remember that their view of what’s fair may vary from yours, and upon getting a thorough explanation from them, you may decide they’re right and you’re wrong. Also remember that smart companies are in business to produce profit. They will pay to get the profit.

6. Your boss is stingy (happens often with entrepreneurial businesses).

My suggestion: You’ve defined a boss who does not want to pay for work. How can we have a rational discussion about compensation when the employer doesn’t want to pay money? The best entrepreneurs I’ve known are very happy to share the wealth when their partners and employees help produce that wealth. They recognize that success is generated by people, and sharing money with them is merely a happy step towards more success that pays for itself. If you want to get paid to work for an entrepreneur, go find one. Your boss fails the test.

Okay, these were quick responses. Ideas. Some of them are very in-your-face. I think all of them pose risks. (Business is risk, remember?) Business should be in-your-face. Business should operate to make money, and you should work for the kind of pay that you want.

Now if Svetla isn’t already bugged with me for holding her up here for everyone to see (Love ya, Svetla — no offense intended. You’ve put a sharp point on some important issues), let’s look at one thing she wrote that I think most people believe is true:

Oftentimes the quoted reason for the level of salaries or raises is the budget limit for the department.

Sorry, but that’s a perspective (or rule) worthy of a commune-ist operation. Any self-respecting capitalist operation will continue to throw more money at a department if every dollar spent on it produces more profit. M-o-n-e-y is spent to produce more money. And a lot more money will be spent if it will produce a lot more money.

Of course, companies today have rules about compensation that have absolutely nothing to do with producing profit. Like, We can’t pay you more than we pay the next guy because that would be unfair (or maybe even illegal!), no matter how productive you are.

People are our most important asset, and we like to think out of the box, and we recruit the best people in our industry, but we pay everyone alike and we have no interest whatsoever in hiring someone out of the box who is an important asset because she can produce more profit than those employees who are already on our salary curve.

Got it?

I’m reminded of a big layoff AT&T did around 1997. Whomp, thousands of people were given exit packages and fired. I know about this because AT&T hired me to help some of those people find jobs. I was there. Then management saw this one woman walking out the door. “Where are you going?”

“You gave me a nice package, thanks. I’m leaving.”

“But we didn’t mean you. We want you to stay. Heck, you’re great! You’ve been contributing over a million dollars a year to our bottom line! It’s pure profit! We want you to stay!”

“No, I’m sorry, but the baby is going out the door with the bathwater. I’m starting my own consulting company. And I already have my first client, who is paying me a percentage of the million bucks a year I’ll be generating for them. Sure beats the $70,000 you were paying me. Hey, thanks!”

Always remember: If you produce more than you cost, in a capitalist society there’s an employer that will hire you. I don’t claim it’s easy to find that company, but it’s out there. You will probably have to make the case that you really do produce more than you cost. What a concept, eh? Could be it’s more important to do that than to write up a resume, huh? Especially in this economy.

A word to Svetla’s boss, if he’s reading this: You say you don’t see a connection between Svetla’s work and your company’s success. If I were your boss, I’d fire you for employing people who don’t make a difference.

(Thanks, Svetla, for the sharp poke in the eye that made me look. There’s nothing like an in-your-face reader!)


  1. Re #1, you might want to re-read the Intellectual Property Agreement you signed before you do this. In some cases, you could get bitten by it.

  2. The problem I have is that management hasn’t a clue about exactly what I do or what it takes to do it. in terms of knowledge, experience and dedication. I keep a major hospital computer system running so smoothly that I’m usually invisible.
    It’s not a revenue-generating job per se. If they can’t even say how much an hour’s downtime costs, they certainly can’t quantify how valuable it is to have continuous uptime.

  3. @Ray – been there. In a previous position, I was the entire IT department for a small company (for a while, the rest of the time I was simply the programmer/DBA). Basically, the only parts that management ever noticed were network issues, web site updates, or email problems. The more important parts of my job were keeping the SQL Server running and making sure orders/shipments got done correctly. But management had no clue, none at all. It was only when things went wrong (a server dies, etc.) that they noticed.

    In my opinion, in the best run IT departments (aside from software development), you’re practically invisible, because things DON’T go wrong due to your efforts. But that doesn’t lend itself to job security or even the bosses having a clue what you do. With some managers, if they can’t see what you do, they assume you’re wasting their money and downsize you. Then, by the time they realize their loss, it’s too late to get you back, as you’ve likely moved on, and no amount of money will repair that damage and cause you to return.

  4. “If they can’t even say how much an hour’s downtime costs, they certainly can’t quantify how valuable it is to have continuous uptime.”

    This looks like a job for….

    Ray Saunders!

    I agree with Jim: If you are invisible, then people have a hard time remembering that you are adding value, no matter how good their intentions.

    This may be a way to think about it: What if your company decided to hire an outside consulting firm to do your job instead? How much would they be willing to pay and for what service? Would they even know how to decide what is a good deal? If they decided tomorrow, who in your company would evaluate the offerings of the consulting firm – would you, Ray Saunders, be one of the people looking over the consultants and explaining what they are offering?

    Don’t wait for management to realize that their lives are so good because of the excellent work you do. Since you do such good work they have no reason to think about you, they have to pay attention to the problems. Show them how running things so well gives them the time to worry about all the other things.

  5. @Ray, @Jim: What you’re describing is the norm, but it shouldn’t be. Hey, I want you to go change the world ;-)… Seriously, it’s not easy to get a company to look at YOUR productivity if it doesn’t really measure the organization’s. But you can be a friendly subversive to try to get a ball rolling. Go talk with a finance manager who oversees your dept’s numbers – or the CFO, if you can. Amble in and explain that you’ve been watching the economy and you have the same concerns he or she does. “Our profitability matters to me. Can you do me a favor? I know this may sound unusual, but I’m trying to understand how my job and my dept fit into the company’s profit model. I doubt it can be teased out at this level, but do you have a few minutes to talk?”

    Sometimes all it takes is a first casual conversation. You might be astonished at what you learn. (And if you learn they don’t care, well, you oughta start thinking exit strategy because the CFO may not have a job soon…)