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By Darryl Stewart

I want a raise

I was consulted recently about a situation where a newer head office employee was looking for a raise. He had told a few of his co-workers and his immediate supervisor that he felt underpaid. He had even hinted to the big boss that he was feeling underpaid. The big boss (BB) was asking me for advice.

Some factors were leading to a no decision on the raise:

  • The person was still under-performing in some parts of his role and had received feedback about his performance that had led to only limited improvement.
  • The person required more management than most in order to get acceptable work done.
  • The person was showing bad judgement talking to everyone in the office to try and secure the raise.

On the yes side:

  • The person was “due” for a raise. It was well past the time that newer employees got their first raise.
  • Despite the poor performance, the person had been assigned new, more difficult duties that would suggest a raise was warranted.
  • Performance in some areas was improving slowly.
  • There was some guilt around the fact that: “perhaps we laid too much on him too quick and are now having to invest the time we should have invested upfront.”

I had three key thoughts for BB:

A) Raises never improve performance.

My first thought was from my own direct experience and backed by research. I have made the mistake myself of increasing employees pay with the hope of seeing improved performance. This has never, ever worked for me and there is a significant amount of research on human motivation that backs up my firsthand experience.

B) Feedback needs to be direct, caring and very specific.

Written all over this situation is the fact that this person does not know how his bosses are really feeling. He is thinking that more responsibility means I am doing okay at my work and I should get a raise. The vague and/or infrequent references to problems with his work performance are not getting through to this young man that he is under-performing in his role.

C) There are too many bosses in this situation.

The employee in this case is getting feedback both from his supervisor and his supervisor’s boss so he went to both of them with the pay raise issue. One person needs to be 100% responsible for leading this person. In a small head office like this one he may have to take tasking direction from both at times, but one of the two should be 100% responsible to be both the coach and advocate for this person. The other leaders need to go through this coach with their feedback, both good and bad, so that the coach can make sense of it all while the employee needs to know to go to this one person with all his concerns.

My final advice?

1. No raise right now.

2. Assign one of his two bosses to be his true leader/coach

That coach should sit down with him immediately and address his campaign for a raise. Let him know that this type of behaviour is not acceptable and that if he has concerns about his compensation, he needs to bring it to his coach and no one else from now on. While making this strong point, his coach should also apologize for the mixed signals he has been getting and that the first thing being done to fix that is that he now has a single coach. That coach will commit to meet with him every 4 to 6 weeks from now on. At these meetings he will be asked how he thinks things are going and the coach will give his/her feedback on how things are going.

3. A pay discussion should be planned for three months out.

A date should be set for when the pay issue will be discussed and at which a pay plan based on improved performance will be laid out.  No promises of raises should be made, only promise that the discussion will happen and that if performance has improved, a plan for addressing compensation over time will be committed to at that meeting.  When that meeting happens the employee should be shown what the organization would be able to pay him once he is fully meeting expectations and he should be given some idea how long that will take at his current pace of improvement. This is often a helpful discussion. While money itself will never motivate, taking the time to address money concerns will.

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