What!? It's not a Monday morning, but there's a new episode of CHP available in my podcast subscriptions? Hell yeah!
My podcast producer is on vacation, and I'm shooting from the hip today, but there's a topic on my mind that I am eager to share with my loyal listeners. Negotiation. It's an important aspect of any successful career even if you're negotiating for something other than your salary. I'd like to share a story with you today about one of my negotiating experiences and then break down the strategy behind my actions. After listening you will be better equipped to become a successful negotiator yourself.
A few years ago I was excelling in my career as a project manager but felt like the salary I was earning was no longer reflective of the value I was contributing. When I first started the role, my employer took a chance on me because I didn't meet all the qualifications including the many years of experience that are generally entrance criteria for the management position that I was offered. Knowing that the job was a big step for me and that I was entering it at the low end of the experience spectrum, I took the job with the salary and corporate band that was offered… and I said thank you. Had the company hired a more traditional candidate for the role, that person would have received a higher career band in addition to a higher salary. Each band puts caps on salaries, job titles, promotion options, and other perks. In order for me to progress in the company, I would need to raise my band in order to open doors to higher rungs of the corporate ladder. When I was hired, I knew my band and salary were low for the position, but just having this huge opportunity offered to me was generous enough and I wasn't eager to push my luck.
However, after working in the job for a while and quickly getting up to a high level of performance, I began to feel that my band level and salary weren't accurately reflecting the value that I provided to the business. Because my band level would potentially restrict my future career growth (and salary would surely follow), my negotiation goal was to get upgraded to a higher rank. If this couldn't happen then I would fall back on just asking a pay bump. To prepare, I decided on a band level and salary number to keep in mind as specific goals to come from the conversation. In case she held firm despite my best efforts, I was prepared to ask her for a specific time that we could revisit the conversation when she was in a position of higher flexibility. Knowing what you want and having an exit strategy before going in… is key.
Having recently completed a large project on time and under budget, I knew it was a good time for me to use my leverage. I researched negotiation strategies online to prepare myself… and (apart from some anxiety) felt ready to rock.
With my goals and strategy in mind, I knew that I needed to speak with my HR representative to discuss my feelings on the topic and negotiate with her or a band bump.
Luckily for me, her office had a glass wall so I could see what she was doing out of the corner of my eye when I walked by.
I changed my daily route to the water fountain to pass her office more often and was able to tell if she was away from her office, occupied on the phone, or seemingly available to chat. One day when I felt ready to have the conversation with her, I saw she looked available, knocked on the door and she let me in. I asked her if she had time to discuss something on my mind, and being the polite individual that she is, she said of course.
I opened up the conversation not by talking about my salary or band, but instead by talking about the future. She and I had spoken before about where I was looking to go in my career, but I approached it as a touch point to ensure I was making the right strides toward my goals. Throughout that portion of the conversation, I took notes on her insights. Not only did I highly value what she had to say, but putting myself in her shoes, I wanted to communicate a genuine interest in her. I appreciated her input at face value but my actions also boosted her feeling of importance. Additionally, this part of the conversation served two additional functions. It built a rapport between us by talking about how I could continue performing at high levels, while also it showed that my sights were set on staying with the company long-term into the future. From her perspective, she wants to foster all top talent and all employees that show interest in building their future with the company. I understood her motivations in HR and knew that I provided the best of both worlds. She would want to do the best she could to keep things that way, and now I had the floor set for my true agenda.
I respected her limited time with me, so after only 5 minutes or so of talking about the future, I mentioned that I would also like to discuss some actions we could take more immediately. I shared that from my perspective, my career band was appropriate for when I started in my role but feels too low for what I've demonstrated and contributed since then. I asked her straight up “is this a topic that we can discuss today?”
I shared that I had done some research to confirm that the next-higher band level would be appropriate for me as a high performer in my role. This communicated my intentions for the negotiation.
I also shared two quick examples to demonstrate my competence as a technically-savvy leader and to highlight the success and financial value I've brought to the business. Although I didn't say it outright, I insinuated that the change in my career would be minuscule to the business compared to the millions in revenue that the team and I were reliably creating.
Her response was supportive and understanding. We agreed that a bump would be appropriate. Unfortunately, her hands were tied due to restrictions from several layers above her, and she wouldn't be able to make any changes in the foreseeable future. I knew that other parts of the business were struggling and were in a hiring freeze, so her explanation seemed logical. I pried a bit deeper but realized we were up against a wall.
Because the decree from leadership revolved around headcount, I felt it was still appropriate to discuss my salary.
I shared that I had researched salaries online for roles similar to mine, especially those in our region. I shared the range that I had found and communicated that my managers and I continually feel that I perform near the highest levels. I shared the number that I had in mind (that was inflated a few thousand above my actual target number) and put the ball in her court.
I felt relieved that her expression wasn't that of shock when I shared my target salary. I could tell that the gears were turning in her head as she considered my proposal. My ask wasn't unreasonable, I had effectively communicated my value, and showed genuine interest in building my future with the company. I understood her perspective and crafted a compelling narrative to appeal to it.
Although I had put my best foot forward in battle, I could feel my heart pounding and my head sweating with anticipation. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally replied. “I believe I can come close to that number, but I'll need to check on a few things before I can promise anything for sure. May I follow up with you in the next day or so?”
Doing my best to hide my excitement, (Ross, fist pumps are not appropriate, fist pumps are not appropriate… she hasn't agreed to anything yet.) I'm sure my voice cracked in the process, but I feverishly agreed.
I thanked her for her time, excused myself from her office, and walked a lap around the campus to calm myself down. Even with the best preparation and years of experience, everyone gets emotionally built up in these situations. You're not alone. Just like asking someone out for the first time, it can be a challenging experience. Challenging, but well worth it.
Now, some parts of this conversation like leading with my thoughts on future growth might seem like manipulation, but I don’t see it that way. Instead, I am exercising a key strategy that Ted Len-Hart and I discuss in an upcoming episode of the Career Hacking Podcast. That is, understanding the needs and motivations of my audience. By putting myself in their shoes I was able to understand their position and poise myself to share my perspective in a compelling way. I entered the conversation with clear goals…. and justifications for why I felt the way I did. Although these items are important, they aren’t sufficient on their own for successful negotiation. By understanding the person on the other side of the table, I was able to communicate in a way that benefits them to find mutual agreement on outcomes that benefit me. Even though I don't work for that company today, at the time I truly did have intentions to grow my influence and outcomes within their business. I wanted to continue growing while feeling adequately rewarded for the contributions I was making. Although I didn’t get everything I had asked for, I still grew through the experience and received a bump of several thousand dollars in my salary. Not bad for a few hours of preparation and ten minutes of discomfort.
What I would suggest for you to prep for your next negotiation:
- Power-up PDF focused on salary negotiation
- Podcast episode with Ted Len-Hart that will go live by the end of May 2018
- Also, do some research outside of WehnerEd. While I have worked hard to compile the best information, I by no means have everything that will help you be successful. Test the waters and see what else is out there. YouTube has tons of available content from experienced professionals.
- Finally, schedule a coaching call with me. It's the most efficient use of your time because it’s tailored to you. Relevant & timely advice. Plus, it has a high ROI. While a set of coaching calls will cost a few hundred dollars upfront, the outcomes you can achieve will be in the thousands. I spoke with a client who was absolutely appalled at the price of coaching calls. It caught me by surprise because even if you only make a small pay bump from your negotiation of $1,000 or $2,000 per year, you make this investment back very quickly. AND
- It’s your yearly salary… that means that you make more every year. Every subsequent raise you get, compounds… even if it’s only 1 or 2% is based on the higher salary you earn now. Not only do you earn more in the short term, your salary will then grow faster every year in the future. It's clearly a no-brainer, and I feel bad that I wasn’t able to help that client, but career coaching is one of those things that you’ll be glad you did in hindsight.
With every client I work with, I take time to understand what their motivations are for their career. It's different for everybody, and it's not always clear what you think you value the most is necessarily what's most important to you. But by working with a career coach you are able to improve your performance and feel more proud of the work that you do. You have the opportunity to work on outcomes that are more meaningful based on your values. You can earn promotions more efficiently. Earn higher wages of course. Spend more time with your family. Build career stability and spend less time worrying “what-if?” Maybe only one of those things resonates with you, but wouldn't life be so much better if that one thing was taken up a notch or two? How many years more years of your career will you spend settling for less than you're capable of? How many more years will you work in a job that really doesn't make you happy? How many more years will you work in that job that keeps you from spending the amount of time with your family that they deserve? It's time you did something about it. Visit our coaching page to set up an obligation-free 15-minute chat with me to see if WehnerEd is a good fit. I understand we're not a good fit for everyone, but you won't know until you try. 15 minutes isn't a big risk to take considering the huge upsides that could result.
Taking a step back, I'd like to compare career coaching to coaching in any other context. Even though it might have a negative stigma or seem dull to many of out there, working with us won't be a drag nor feel like a trip to the dentist. You'd be amazed how many of my clients find new energy and excitement about their careers after just a single conversation with me.
Your job should feel like more to you than just a job.
When you went to school as a child you had teachers (or in another word, coaches) who provided thorough explanations to help you learn and grow. They gave you structured content (like homework) to help you practice and master what they had taught to you. And then they gave you quizzes and exams to grade your mastery and understand where your gaps were so that you could further perfect your skills.
Think about how Tiger Woods became the best golfer in the world. Sure, he has heaps of natural hand-eye coordination, but his practice and self-evaluation are relentless. The tournaments that he plays in continually test his abilities against the other professionals. He has one of the best swings in the world, but still works with coaches regularly to constantly fine tune and perfect his swing to take him to even higher levels. He spends countless hours on the putting greens practicing his stroke. He uses tools and additional coaches to help him improve his putting. He is constantly studying other players, new techniques, and is scrutinizing himself to help him continue to grow to stay competitive. His tournament play tests how well his preparation equipped him for success. After each tournament, he takes time to reflect on how he did, strategically plan how he will correct his mistakes and then works with his coaches to further refine his craft. It's a four-part continual process.
Are you beginning to picture the growth cycle? Coaches teach him. He practices on his own to improve. He competes to continually evaluate where he's at. He is constantly judging his own performance to understand how he can constantly improve… and then works with his coaches again to perpetuate the cycle.
It's no accident that Tiger was the best in the world for nearly a decade. Many new players have learned from him to become the latest phenoms.
In the same way, working in a career is no different than being a competitive athlete. If you want to improve in any aspect of your career or life, you must go through the same steps. Constantly be evaluating your own performance to understand where the largest opportunities are for you to grow. Put yourself in challenging situations to test your abilities and understand where you're at. Work with a coach who has the knowledge and expertise to help you take your skills to the next level, And then refined those skills through your own commitment and practice to get you where you want to go. Be sure to stop and take a moment to congratulate yourself for your growth, and then jump right back in.
If you aren't sure where to start or need something to ignite your journey of growth, give us a call. Visit our coaching page at WehnerEd.com/coaching/ to schedule a free time with me to discuss your goals and determine the best path forward for you. Each call is 100% private and you have nothing to lose. In fact, I would argue that you only have benefits to gain. WehnerEd exists to help you be your best, and I'm inspired daily by the results our clients achieve. I hope you're ready to be next.
Thanks for tagging along with me today for this bonus episode of the Career Hacking Podcast, click subscribe if you're digging what we have to share, and look forward to your regularly scheduled new episode to release on Monday. Take care!