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Confessions of a Manager: Tips For Getting A Raise

As a former manager I’m often asked what someone can do to increase their chances of getting a raise. These questions came from my employees when I was a manager and now come from peers as I have returned to an individual contributor role.

Tips for Getting a Raise by Standing Out

The first thing I always tell someone is that you are typically competing with your team for normal promotions. As a manager I was typically given a pot of money for the entire team of which I determined the pay split. Long term raise potential might even be increased by targeting the joining of a team with good visibility and poor performing employees. In any case if you want more of the split, or if you want me to walk through the fire pit of HR and my boss to get you more money, then you need to stand out. This post is all about what you can do to stand out.

Managers are People Too

The most important thing to remember as you deal with a manager is there is fundamentally no difference between them and you. They have their own set of fears: concerns for their job safety, work stress, too much work and too little time. Their opinion of your value when it comes to a promotion or raise is largely related to how much handholding you require. Being a self starter that only asks for help when you absolutely need it will get you everywhere. Now that doesn’t mean making all the decisions yourself, as in situations you can’t solve your manager will prefer to know sooner rather then later. Digging you out later will be much harder for a manager then doing so before something is due.

Managers have Recency Bias

The second thing to remember is their view of your worthiness for a promotion is more heavily weighted to your most recent work. As a human being we all have a natural bias, termed recency bias, to view things in terms of their recent performance. I talk about this in another post, here, related to the stock market. However the same logic applies to your review and promotional opportunities.   So if you are about to ask you better step up your game in the few months before the ask.

Make your Managers Aware

The third thing to remember is managers have a lot going on. A good manager has to stay in the know about what each employee is doing on their team at any given time. In combination with the above recency bias, there is a tendency to forget what happened prior in the year. As an employee, you should always keep a running log of your accomplishments for the year. This can help to show your worth when it comes time to receive that bonus. The reality is it is not good enough to be the best at what you do. You need to ensure your manager knows it. Just be sure to do it in a way so it does not sound like you’re bragging.

Your Manager is Not the Only Decision Maker in Getting A Raise

The fourth thing to remember is your manager has a manager too. Your manager’s job is to protect you, remove roadblocks, and if they are a morally upstanding person to help you develop your career. By making them look good to their manager, you can help them go to bat for you. Their manager likely controls the pot of money the manager has to allocate to raises and has veto power over their choices. Keep in mind you’re not just laying a case for your direct manager to give you a promotion, but also one for their manager to do so. All the things stated above also apply to their manager.

Managers Want You to be Happy

The final thing to remember as an employee hoping for a raise is most good managers want you to be happy. They don’t really want to be faced with an employee who will quit. It’s expensive, time consuming, makes them look bad, and potentially hurts their objectives to open the time to replace an employee.  There are a few bad managers, see the reference in the first paragraph to the same fears as you, who will treat you poorly out of belief that you are a threat to them.  There are also a few bad ones that will believe you are better motivated by fear, but by and large most won’t. For the bad ones you’re better off finding greener pastures as a bad boss can be sucking. Even those bad ones however do not want you to leave. Remember to ask for what you want. I don’t just mean a raise, but also where you want to go with your career, and opportunities in the organization. Your boss is not a mind reader and will never know what you want unless you ask.

How do you manage your manager?  Has it aided you in getting a raise?

16 Comments

  1. Jon @ Be Net Worthy
    Jon @ Be Net Worthy January 18, 2017

    These are good tips. For me, it always boils down to making your manager’s life easier. You can do this by exceeding expectations, keeping them informed and making them look good in front of THEIR boss. If you can do those things, you will likely be in good shape!

    Using this approach, I’ve actually drafted my own year-end review in some jobs and then just let my manager tweak the language as he saw fit and called it his own! 🙂

  2. The Green Swan
    The Green Swan January 18, 2017

    Great tips! I’ve never been a manager with direct reports so it’s an interesting point of view. I’ve tried all of the above and others, but it’s hard to tell how well they have worked for me or not. Bottom line is I work in a large institution and it can be hard justifying raises sometimes. Although I am not complaining, promotions have been good to me on the raise front and bonus front. Hopefully this year is no different!

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] January 18, 2017

      It’s definitely harder the bigger the organization. In the one I work in an extraordinary raise, one outside the yearly team bucket, takes an act of a VP. I had to follow the same steps on them as well.

  3. Go Finance Yourself!
    Go Finance Yourself! January 18, 2017

    Great post. Making your manager aware of your accomplishments and how they add value is great advice for getting a raise. Don’t expect your manager to notice every great thing you did during the year. This is a trap I fell into early in my career. You need to point out your accomplishments to your manager and sell them on why you deserve a raise.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      fu[email protected] January 18, 2017

      I’m not naturally someone to talk up my accomplishments, so I can remember having the same issues early on.

  4. Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com
    Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com January 18, 2017

    Thanks for sharing FTF. I also manage people too and I can definitely relate to the points that you presented. I would also add one more thing – the company culture. Some company just want people to do their work and don’t offer career paths. Even if they did, the employee may have to work really hard to stand out for a couple of years before they can get promoted. This usually mean that it’s easier for the good employees to just find a new job.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] January 18, 2017

      Great add. In the organization I work in they do career paths but organizationally they do little to help you along that path outside informally by a direct manager or because you inquired. The learning was that the only one whom is looking out for your career is you.

  5. Smart Provisions
    Smart Provisions January 18, 2017

    Good tips, FTF.

    I would usually make an awesome PowerPoint to point out the things I have done and helped out with using the STAR Method. It definitely helps my manager understand what I’m working on and how it has affected the business.

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] January 18, 2017

      I had to look up the STAR method as I’ve not heard of that one. How do you relate that back to your goals for the year?

  6. Mustard Seed Money
    Mustard Seed Money January 18, 2017

    Awesome pot Full Time Finance!!! Being a manager at times is incredibly difficult and the phrase managing up is definitely something that I’ve had to do in order to be seen and get the recognition that I desired. Although in the government since it’s not up to our direct managers we have a little less control

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] January 19, 2017

      I can imagine a public sector job would bring with it a whole host of unique situations. My father in-law was a professor and in talking to him I can tell his career was a lot different from us in the private sector.

  7. Sam
    Sam January 20, 2017

    Recency bias is so huge. I worked for a couple months at Walmart and got promoted in no time. I worked hard and diligently, but still had to ask questions regularly about different facets of business happenings. While everybody else was complaining all the time, I buddied up.

  8. Jacq
    Jacq April 5, 2017

    The manager at the last place I worked used “other duties as assigned” to knock down all the ‘extras’ I did and tried to leverage as going ‘above and beyond’ my listed job description at review time. I’m someone who sees what needs to be done for the good of the group, and finds a way to make it happen. Because I filled that role, others didn’t have to put in the effort. The more I talk about there (or my ex) on financial blogs I see how bad of a situation I was in, that I was too close to fully see the scope at the time. I knew it wasn’t good, but I was too close and it felt so much like I was drowning, I couldn’t tell / didn’t care if it was 10 ft or 100 ft deep.
    My mid year review at my current job included being told none of my line management wanted to put improvements, because they don’t see anything up several layers up said something had to go in that box. 🙂 I happy take on each new task asked of me, so my managers know they can count on me when they do need to give me something new. I’m so much happier here!
    We had ‘retention bonuses’ and a standard raise (everyone got the same) because of financial belt tightening after layoffs last fall. Bonuses are good, raises are good even if it’s not merit based this year. It takes out that competition you write about.
    Thanks for an insightful post!

    • fulltimefinance@fulltimefinance.com
      [email protected] April 5, 2017

      Great point from the other side. As a manager it’s not all about raises or bonuses. Some of it is just respecting and acknowledging when someone went above and beyond. A good manager will take the opportunity to do that regularly. If they don’t with you it’s probably time to look for a new opportunity.

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