How to Get a Raise (Without Even Asking for One)

In my previous post I described how to make an additional $10,000 in 2017.  For freelancers, the combination of “charge more” and “work more” is pretty easy.  For employees and contractors, however, it might be a bit trickier since most people have a hard time asking for money – or at least asking for it in the right way.

So how about getting a raise without asking for one?

This was one of my favorite (and, regretfully, most secret) techniques from my days as an employee and contractor.

Instead of asking, “May I have more money, please?” or (even more cringeworthy) stating “I think I’m worth x”, the correct question is “What do I need to do to be worth x?”.

There are several important aspects of that question.  The first is that it comes ahead of the increase.  You’re asking your manager to help you align with the organization in such a way that you’ll be worth x.  This should be a manager’s dream – you’re making it easy to manage you, and in a proactive way.

Next, notice that x can be whatever you like.  I once got a 50% raise with this technique and my manager was happy to give it to me.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a handout – I had to develop solutions to a couple of very difficult problems to be worth it, but that’s where the beauty lies.  By posing the question this way, and up front, you quickly enter a space of discovering and defining value that’s starts with mutual agreement and completely bypasses the need to negotiate.

Another important aspect to this question is that you may get the response, “We’ll never be able to pay you that”. The manager I had at my very first salaried job had to deliver that message.  To her credit, she delivered it proactively (I was WAY too immature to ask for a raise well – she simply got in front of the issue before it ever came up) by telling me, “This organization will never need all that you can do.  Get as good as you can before you leave, because we’ll never be able to pay you what you’re worth simply because we can’t consume what you do.”  That response, while somewhat disappointing, is incredibly valuable information.  An appropriate reply (and FAR more appropriate than my reply) is “Then what is the maximum I can be worth here and how do I get there?”  It’s also a sign that it’s probably time to start looking elsewhere.

Lastly, there’s an even better technique than what I’ve described.  It’s actually more of a super-charged version, which is why I presented the other one first.  That technique is to bring suggestions for value along with your ask.  That’s what I did for the 50% pop mentioned before. I took the “what can I do to be worth x” and turned it into “would it be worth x if I solve y and z?” You see, at that point you’re doing part of your manager’s job for them and that’s incredibly valuable.

The final point I’d like to make is that you have to deliver.  It’s not enough to ask where the value is, you are committing to deliver on it.  Don’t go asking how to get to x and then reply with, “Yeah, I don’t want to do that”.  Only ask if you’re looking to grow and looking to stretch yourself.

So, look around and identify some of the opportunities which almost certainly surround you.  Talk to your manager in your 1-on-1 to set a goal.  Make a plan, check in during your 1-on-1s and quarterly reviews – the next thing you know you’ll be making what you want.

No 1-on-1s or quarterly review?  Oy, well we’ll discuss managing your manager next time.

Read This for $10,000

As you look to 2017, you can pretty easily add $10,000 to your income.  Here’s the math:

Salaried Employess

$10,000 = $5/hr more than your current hourly rate. (divide your salary by 2,000 for a quick hourly rate)

Entry-Level Freelance

If you’re making $20 – $25 per hour, then you need between 400 and 500 extra hours next year.  This is 8 to 10 extra hours per week.  An extra hour per day, plus 3 – 5 hours on Saturday morning will do it.  Not only that, but the extra time you put in should move you up to a mid-level freelancer.

Mid-Level Freelance

If you’re making $30 – $50 per hour, then you need between 200 and 350 extra hours next year.  This is 4 to 7 extra hours per week.  An extra hour per day Monday -Thursday and a few hours on Saturday will do it.

Senior Freelance

If you’re making $50 – $100 per hour, then you need between 100 and 170 extra hours next year. This is 2 to 4 extra hours per week.

Above $100/hour

If you’re making more than $100 per hour, chances are that you’ve built a system of work where adding more time isn’t going to move your income needle enough to offset the loss of free time and big thoughts.

The lesson here is twofold: first, the extra money is easily within grasp if you spread out the effort through the whole year.  Secondly, working on your value (aka your rate) will give you more leverage than simply throwing additional hours into work.  If you’re early in your career then put in the time, collect the extra money, invest in yourself, and learn as much as you can.  By accelerating your experience with the extra time, you’ll hit mid and senior levels earlier and find compounded returns later in your career.

The Dead Simple Guide to Running a Team

Nearly 7 years ago, I wrote a post on how to run a development team.  Recently, I was talking to someone who needed to run a team which wasn’t focused on software development.  I told him that the same basic principles applied, but instead of focusing on the theory I simply laid out the practice.  Re-reading the old post I realized that while I had conveyed the strategy that had worked for me and others, I had left out any specific tactical details.

Time to fix that by presenting the 4 things you must have to run a team effectively.  You may decide to add other aspects to optimize for your specific situation but these are the items which are either in place or causing you trouble.

1. Backlog

A backlog is simply a prioritized list of everything you know that needs to happen.  Prioritization is key – in the absence of further instruction, a team member should be able to pull the highest priority item from the list to work on and know that it’s the right thing to do.

2. In Progress List

To run a team, you need to know what’s in progress.  If you (and others) don’t know what’s being worked on, then you aren’t really managing.  The easier it is for you, and the team, to see what’s in progress the better the chances of catching the “Whoa, why is that happening now!” moments before someone wastes time on the wrong thing.

3. Blocked Indicator

Almost as important as prioritizing the backlog of work, blocked items are where a manager can really shine.  When a team member marks an item as blocked, it’s a way for them to say, “I can’t work on this further until _____ happens”.  The faster you can make ______ happen, the better off the team is.  Sometimes it doesn’t fall on you, there are outside influences like other teams, clients, vendors, etc. – know the difference.  Read every blocked item and ask yourself if there’s some way in which you can help.  Also, since the backlog is prioritized, a team member should be able to roll from a blocked item to the next item smoothly.

4. Finished Indicator

I’ve been surprised on numerous occasions to find out that a team has no “public” way to indicate that a task is finished nor see what other items are finished.  The rational I’ve usually heard (and it’s almost always smaller teams and companies) is that finishing is what counts and the manager is usually informed.  This sets up a communications bottleneck where everyone has to check with the manager to get overall status or (more likely) no one really pays attention to what’s getting completed.  Having a way for everyone on the team to know what’s done not only gives the group a feeling for where projects stand, it also allows for the “Hold on there, Sparky – that’s not actually done because you forgot _____”.  This is more common where projects have lots of dependencies amongst the tasks.


There are dozens of good options (and hundreds of bad ones) for tools to make this easy.  My tool of choice for a team which is starting from scratch is Trello.  Create 3 lists: Backlog, In Progress, and Done.  Add one label called Blocked and make it red.  Boom! In 5 minutes (literally) you are now ready to start prioritizing and monitoring work while keeping an eye out for blockages.  A lot of teams will later “graduate” to a more formal system, but getting the initial mechanics in place is critical and you don’t want to spend hours or days hunting around for the “perfect” solution until you’ve got things humming along enough that more advanced functionality makes sense.

If you feel your work day is too chaotic or your team could be performing more efficiently, chances are you’re missing one of the 4 items above.  Do yourself and your crew a favor and put just a little process in place so you can start to troubleshoot and stabilize.

A Practical Guide to Managing Bad Employees

Hal commented on last year’s post The Dead Simple Guide To Being a Good Manager and asked for some solutions to Step 1: Make It Terrible to be Bad.  There is one simple and effective technique that I’ve used (and seen used) multiple times and I can sum it up in 4 words:

Remove the hiding places

Bad employees continue to be bad because they are, somehow, able to convince themselves and/or others that they aren’t bad.  They hide in all the little places that we create when we aren’t careful, scurrying to their favorite spots when things aren’t going their way.  The bad news is that we, as managers and peers, create these hideouts when we aren’t clear and when we accept anything less than clarity. The good news is that you can start fixing things immediately by being clear and demanding clarity.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Define success in unambiguous terms.  It’s unfair to fault someone for not being good if it’s not clear what “being good” means.
  2. Prefer to be clear over being right.  Ditch terms like “leverage”, “strategic”, “high-level” and other words that can be defined retroactively to support any outcome.  Instead, state things in terms that can be proven right or wrong, even if that means that you’ll be proven wrong sometimes.
  3. Be objective.  Measure according to the standards you’ve laid out.

One Last Chance In Private

Once you have clearly defined success and expectations, counsel your troubled employee in private.  This is a critical step, because this is where you can find out if the problem is actually yours and not theirs.  If you’ve done everything above then it should be obvious to both of you that your employee is falling short.  What you’re looking for is a sign that they understood what was expected and they simply didn’t deliver.  This private counsel is also where you can separate bad employees from immature ones.  The immature ones didn’t believe that it was important, the bad ones didn’t care that it was important.  If you find yourself counseling an immature employee, then you have a great opportunity to turn someone’s life around.  Spend a little extra time with them over the coming weeks and break things down to the smallest feasible chunks so you can provide plenty of feedback.  If they turnaround and become good then you’ve become not just a good manager, but a great one.  If they don’t turnaround, then chances are they acted immaturely when really they’re not going to get any better.

One Last Chance In Public

If private counsel didn’t work, then it’s time to go public.  Make it clear in a meeting, with other team members present, that the work (not the worker)  is unacceptable.  Once again, if you’ve defined things clearly then this should be obvious to everyone in the room.  It won’t be comfortable, but it’s important for a couple of reasons:

  1. It gives peer pressure/support a chance to work.  If the team rallies around the weakest link and helps him succeed, then you have another shot at turnaround.  If the team shuns him, then it’s not going to be a fun place for him to work.
  2. It sends a message to the team that you mean what you say.
  3. It can begin the self selection process where they figure out that they’re in the wrong place and relocate themselves elsewhere.  It is almost always easier to have someone voluntarily leave than to have to terminate them.

3 Strikes, You’re Out

After the previous last chances, failure to improve should result in termination.  When you terminate someone, they should never be surprised.  They can be pissed, they can even be shocked because they never thought you’d actually do it, but they should have seen it coming.  Everyone should see it coming.  Most should be relieved or appreciative.

To Be Clear

After mentioning clarity so many times, it seems appropriate to make a few things explicit:

  • Making things “terrible” is all about exposing bad work and making someone uncomfortable with their actions and choices.
  • This is not an excuse to be mean.
  • You need to be fair and objective.
  • There has to be an opportunity for turnaround.
  • There will be work and discomfort on your part.

Stick to your guns and prune respectfully and you’re on your way to being a good manager.  Go the extra mile and actually turn someone around and you’ll be great.  Either way, you and your team will be better off for it.