The Key to a Successful Salary Increase Conversation

Salary adjustments.  Merit increases.  Annual salary reviews.

Call them whatever you want, this simple fact remains:  the process of reviewing and adjusting salaries for employees is a stressful one.  So much anxiety, tension and trepidation.

Many companies are focused on a standard process, a fair review that incorporates performance and potential, and hitting “the number” just right, to compensate employees according to the factors important to the company.  As a matter of fact, many companies do this very, very well.

Why is this, exactly?  Why does it almost never go well?

During my recent reading about Customer Experience, Employee Experience and how important Employee Expectations are in both of those equations, I had an epiphany.

I think I have discovered the key ingredient:  expectations.

Think of it this way – the success of a salary increase conversation hinges not on whether the process was fair or equitable.  It hinges on whether the employee thinks it is fair.  That is a fairly small, but at the same time HUGE difference.  Let that sink in for a minute…

It hinges on whether the employee thinks it is fair.


What am I saying, exactly?  Am I saying that the only successful salary increase conversation is one that the employee dictates entirely, and basically chooses what his/her increase will be?  Nope.  Not at all.

I’m saying this – understanding what your employee expects going into the entire process will help you understand their mindset coming in, and allow you to have multiple productive conversations to arrive at a point where trust is present, and the ultimate decision (even one that you may not have agreed with, or approved of) can be successful.

Here are a few tips on how to do that:

  1. Build trust first.  It starts early on in the relationship and needs to be sustained over time.  Trust matters.  Seeds of successful salary conversations are planted months before the actual salary conversation.
  2. Hold regular 1:1 conversations.  Become comfortable talking with each other about work topics, and “how do you feel about ______”.
  3. Introduce the topic frequently enough to make it a comfortable conversation.  In these private 1:1 conversations, talk openly about salary & compensation.  This will allow future conversations about compensation to happen much more easily.  #practicemakesperfect

Note:  countless managers talk about compensation/pay once per year (at salary adjustment time) and are shocked when it doesn’t go well… OF COURSE IT WON’T GO WELL!!! 

It takes effort and practice!

Now, I understand it’s never this simple.  There are so many complex factors and variables in each individual circumstance that it would be impossible to prescribe one “best practice”.  But start with building trust over time, and understanding expectations, and you will feel better prepared during the entire process.

(“What’s next?” after you understand their expectations is a future post… please share any thoughts/comments/questions below!)


6 ‘Must Read’ lists for a first time manager

Becoming a Manager is a big deal.  Like, a really big deal.

Far too often, the step from ‘individual contributor’ to Manager is glossed over, rushed, assumed, or forced.

The promotion into this step should be, in my opinion, done carefully and deliberately – with a proper amount of excitement, accolades, and support.

But regardless of how it happened, you may find yourself in that seat now.  It’s time to think a little bit differently, act a lot differently, and judge your own work and success differently.

To begin thinking this way, I have relied upon 6 pieces, from various authors and sources, that I share with first time managers.

Take a look at these wise pieces of advice and counsel from various experts:

  1. 7 Secrets First-Time Leaders Want to Know, Lolly Daskal
  2. 25 Tips for New Managers, Dan McCarthy
  3. 5 Essential Lessons for First Time Managers, ‘The Muse’ (contributor to
  4. 8 Tips to Help First-Time Managers Thrive, Craig Cincotta (on
  5. Top 10 Leadership Tips for First-time Managers, Profiles International
  6. Why First-Time Managers Fail, Andrew G. Rosen (U.S. News)

…after you read them (or at least skim them for key ideas & topics), think what you feel you should incorporate into your own leadership & management!  You know yourself and your situation best.

I recommend making a brief list of the topics/ideas that resonate with you right now, and write them down.  From that list, pick one (yes, ONE) topic you will focus on for the next few months.  Make that a part of your thought, study, learning and daily management practices!  Then, once you feel like you’ve almost ‘mastered’ that one, do it again!  Pick another, then another.  #onebyone #slowandsteadywinstherace

Beware of the ‘Friend Zone’ with your employees…

I think we have all worked with, or around, a boss who is waaaaay to impersonal, right?  Like, he/she doesn’t really take time to connect on a personal level, is always way too busy, and just doesn’t really seem to care, right?  It is a pretty common occurrence, unfortunately.

Many who have been in that position swear that, when given a shot at leadership, they will be the exact opposite of that person.  He swears he will be a personable, attentive, loving boss that always cares about his employees, much like a best friend would.  He remembers this commitment so fiercely, they are really quite committed to it.  Sounds good, right?

Well…  there’s a downside.  A serious downside, if you let that pendulum swing too far the other way.

You see, a boss who is too cold, and impersonal, and detached can fail to build trust and thus not lead effectively.  But a boss who goes too far in trying to build trust can actually damage his/her own reputation and trust with others by entering the “friend zone”.

I think of it like this:


The danger zone on the left side is obvious – that’s the one we see frequently and try to correct.  The danger zone on the right side (what I will call the “friend zone”) is much less obvious, but in some ways almost equally as dangerous.

Imagine you are a boss, who in an effort to build camaraderie and trust (in addition to satisfying your own desire for something ‘social’ at work, to create a fun work environment) goes to lunch, hangs out after hours, invites others on some weekend activities like concerts, sporting events or other non-work activities.  Harmless enough, right?  Well, let’s step back and take a look… Continue reading

The single hardest thing about management…

Anyone who moves into a management position will tell you that at some point, things change.  Something clicks.  A switch flips.  Suddenly your job becomes much harder.  The problem is, it is really hard to identify why that happens, exactly.  After all, you have worked for managers before, and observed what they do (or didn’t do)… it isn’t that hard, right?  Well, or so you thought…

Then you got the big promotion.

Boom.  It all changed.  It all got WAY harder.  (maybe not immediately, but eventually it did…right?).

Why is this, exactly?

Simply put – because virtually nothing in management is black or white.

There is no simple formula for success as a manager.

Consider a few examples –

  1. A member of your team has lost all motivation and isn’t performing his job well.  A ‘prescription’ of how to cure this condition would be great.  Even the standard processes (call them performance management, or progressive discipline, or whatever…) are not completely black and white most of the time.  The most common answer becomes “it depends” – because there are so many reasons and factors and data points to consider.  There’s no magic switch to flip that will instantly motivate a person, unfortunately.
  2. Team meetings are a drag.  Everyone arrives late, people are totally disinterested, check their phones, or even create reasons (excuses) not to go.  But you know that an effective team meeting should be very important!  (and I agree with you)  So what do you do?  Is there a magic structure for meetings, or agenda to follow that will suddenly make them brilliant?  Sorry, nope.

…and the examples go on.  So many things that seem daunting, overwhelming, and frustrating are simply that way because they aren’t “black and white”.  There’s no simple solution.  Each will require a unique approach to solve them, completely different from what others may offer, and completely different from what you have done in the past.

So, what does this mean?

Well, it means that your success as a manager will depend on your ability to understand and evaluate each individual situation to decide on the best course of action.  It is HARD work.  It can be long, tedious, and frustrating.  There’s no magic bullet.

But understanding that there isn’t an easy answer is the first step.  You’ll stop looking for easy solutions, or waiting for a magic date to arrive when it all becomes easier.  It won’t.  You just need to roll up your sleeves and start doing work!

What do I do now? Continue reading

Four Steps to Effective Delegation

Leaders are asked to accomplish many things with limited time and resources.  They can’t possibly do everything themselves (nor should they).  It is absolutely critical for leaders to properly delegate.

Delegation is not just “passing the buck” to others; responsibility still lies with the leader.

Delegation is also not just blindly passing tasks to random team members. Effective delegation takes effort, preparation, and practice.

Back in 2012 I got an e-mail from Competitive Solutions, which now appears to be connected to, or known as Process Based Leadership.

Here are the Four Steps to Effective Delegation:

  1. Maintain supervisory control  (in other words, don’t go completely “hands off”)
    • Observe and provide feedback
    • Review periodically and track progress
    • Validate completion of tasks – both milestones, and final/overall task
  2. Select the task and match it to the proper employee
    • Consider time frame, necessary training, and ability to complete the task
    • Use previous experiences, utilize strengths and provide opportunity for growth
    • Consider desired outcomes and benefit to the employee
  3. Communicate the task and gain commitment
    • Meet to discuss the task’s importance and value to the organization
    • Explain the benefits of accomplishing the task
    • Clearly articulate the desired outcomes, timeframe, and results
    • Confirm understanding and gain commitment
  4. Provide recognition
    • Recognize both effort and results
    • Acknowledge growth, learning, and development
    • Set the tone for future delegation of tasks

Delegation, when done properly, can provide a true “win win” situation.  Help and support to the leader, and a valuable, rewarding experience to the employee.

And remember:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.“ – Max DePree

(sidenote: I couldn’t find the original content I captured back in 2012, but this is a really good article I found on their site, on the topic of delegation. Credit “jamiee” – author of the article, who shared this quote)

Align with your team using this one simple exercise…

Meet John.  John has been part of his team for three years – he knows his peers well, the team is doing a good job.  The Manager has resigned from the company, and John is promoted.  Congrats John!  Now the fun begins!

So John comes in on a Monday morning, as the newly minted Manager of the team, now the fearless leader!  Certainly John has many great ideas to implement that will help the team accomplish great things.  He probably can’t wait to get started!

Hold on John.  Pause for a moment.

Even if you are 100% certain your ideas are the best thing to do for your team’s performance, be warned that many, many Managers have started off on the wrong foot by trying to implement good ideas before taking important steps to build trust.

The first task for any manager is to build trust.  Genuine, authentic trust.

I recommend one simple activity for John to gain trust of the team and get off to a great start.  The exercise is simply called “Start Stop Continue” (this is not my original activity – I learned it a while back, there are many representations of it online… I truly do not know the origination).  The idea is very simple:  find out what the team thinks that you (collectively) should start doing, should stop doing, and should continue doing.  

Start with a whiteboard (or note-taking paper on the wall) like this: Continue reading

What a leader should do when it’s awkward…


If I say “awkward,” what’s the first thing you think of?  A first date?  A painful social interaction?  What about a job interview or a work conversation?

You figured once you “arrived” into management, your days of awkward conversations were coming to an end, right?  Welp, if you haven’t figured out already this is not the case, you will soon…

You know what?  I hope you embrace it!  Yes, that’s right! Embrace awkwardness in leadership.  It is a challenge, for sure – but it will allow you to build your own leadership capability, and demonstrate true firmness as a leader (a very important attribute).

Why?  Because leadership is not comfortable.  

You will need to acknowledge awkward conversations, prepare for them, and tackle them head on.  One of the most damaging thing to credibility and trust, as you manage your team, is to always take the easy way out.  To always say or do what makes things comfortable.  It’s the wrong way to go.  “Management awkwardness” is potentially a very important way for you to gain ground as a leader.

Let’s play out “management awkwardness” in a few different scenarios:

Scenario 1:  giving employee important coaching/feedback on some points of improvement.  He immediately starts arguing – making excuses, blaming, or (worst of all) pointing our your flaws and shortcomings as a leader.  What do you do?

Natural response: you ‘hedge your bet,’ either softening the feedback message, adding in some positive elements, or even retreating altogether.

Correct response:  wait.  Endure the awkward silence, but hold fast to your previous comments (which, I’m going to assume, were substantive, fair and objective).  Don’t back off.  Instead, listen to understand what makes them feel this way, then request to continue the discussion at a later date.  Don’t ‘keep trying’ to get your point across; they aren’t listening anyway by that point.

Scenario 2:  all-star employee, high performer asks to meet with you to discuss career development.  He/she expresses concern at not knowing what his/her direction and future will be with the company.  What do you do? Continue reading

The Simplest Definition of ‘Engagement’

There has been a LOT of discussion about Employee Engagement.  Much research has been done about how engaged employees build culture, improve bottom line results, and contribute to the overall company success.  All really good stuff!

But the question is, how do I decide if my employees are engaged?  Is there simple thermometer I can use to tell how engaged my employees are?

The simplest version of employee engagement is this:

Engagement = discretionary effort.

Think about that for a moment.  What does ‘discretionary’ mean?  It is different than just ‘doing a great job’ or ‘doing what you’re asked’ or even ‘doing a great job when you’re asked’.  To me, true engagement occurs in the times when an employee can choose what they are doing.  

Try that out – see if you can identify employees who are more or less engaged by using ‘discretionary effort’ as a measuring stick.  When they are between tasks, or not up against a deadline, what do they do?  Do they jump right into social media for a break?  Do they chat with co-workers to kill time?  Do they spend large amounts of time in the break room or around the water cooler?  All of these things are fine, and important to balance out the work day… but when employees really have a choice, what do they do?

It is an interesting exercise, to either confirm or disprove what you already believe.

With this simple observation, you come to one of two conclusions:

First, an engaged employee.  Perfect!  They spend their discretionary time doing good things, helping others, contributing in various ways.  Awesome.  That’s what we want.

But the other alternative, an employee who is not engaged.  He/she spends discretionary time doing nothing (I would say a person not doing their job at all isn’t just a matter of engagement, but a performance problem – that’s a greater topic for a different day  #staytuned).

So what now?  How do you increase engagement?  Well, you can’t really

Well, you can’t really force someone to be engaged, it is definitely a choice they make on their own.  But you can provide the environment and contributors that help them get there.  The folks at DecisionWise have laid out a simple framework and explanation

The folks at DecisionWise have laid out a simple framework and explanation here.  I highly recommend it, once you’ve identified the engagement “temperature” and want to start moving things forward.

So what do you think?  Does the simple ‘thermometer’ definition of engagement match what you’ve seen?  Please share comments below!



The Art (and Work) of Listening

I talked about listening as a key action that can help build trust (full post here) but wanted to dive in a bit deeper because it is so important.

I think we’ve all heard that we should be a good listener, right?

  • Listen to your school teacher
  • Listen to your parents
  • Listen to your significant other
  • Listen to your boss
  • Listen to a friend

…and the list goes on.

Listening truly is one of the most important ways we can build relationships, and lead effectively.

I am reminded of this blog post by Lolly Daskal, which I first read a few years ago.  The whole post isn’t very long, but I want to share a few highlights:

1) The most basic human need is to understand and to be understood.

2) The essence of listening is in silence:

Do not judge

Do not question

Do not fix

3) For many, being silent feels like being inactive. But listening is the act of paying attention, the act of consideration.

…all of which are such insightful points about listening.  Think about each one for a minute.  Such good stuff.  I agree completely with all three!  Leadership and trust are built on this understanding.

So why, then, don’t more people listen?  Why is this such a difficult skill to master? Continue reading

Team Meetings People Actually Look Forward To!!!

Let’s say you are a new leader, with people reporting to you now… or… you have been a leader for a while, but inherited a new team.  o-BUSINESS-MEETING-facebookEither way, you know you probably should hold team meetings on a somewhat regular basis, right?  RIGHT!

But why, exactly?  I mean, most meetings you have been in (team meetings or otherwise) have been pointless, redundant, or ineffective, right?  Probably also right.  <siiiiighh>

Why do meetings get such a bad rap?  We just say the word, and people cringe.  In fact, I would guess that most of your schedule is packed with meetings, right?  Interesting!

The key to effective meetings is to be purposeful and deliberate.

We will talk about overall meetings, or general business meetings, in a future post (good article here if you’re interested).  But for now, I would like to focus on the first meeting you should focus on:  your team meeting.

This meeting should be the best meeting you hold!  It should be a highlight and a help to you in your work as a leader.  First step:  take control!  You own it!  Drive it!  Make it an exception to the “pointless meeting” stereotype!

The purpose of a regular team meeting should be to a) build trust, b) connect people, and c) make progress on the work (a and b will help accomplish c.  I promise).

Here’s how: Continue reading