It's Friday afternoon. You're preparing to head out for the weekend when you see your manager approach. Disappointment sets in. "Great, another long weekend," you think. Then she speaks. "We've been talking it over in the board room, and because the network is running so smoothly we've decided to give you a raise."

Dream on. That scenario isn't likely to happen. One of the inherent drawbacks of working in IT is that typically you're noticed only when systems fail. In other words, the success of your work is based largely on remaining unnoticed, which isn't conducive to getting raises and bonuses. Improving compensation over the long run requires strategy and diligence. To this end, it's helpful to build your case for increased compensation in three phases: planning, preparation, and presentation.

Planning
The first misstep that most people make is that they fail to plan their request for a raise or a bonus. Too frequently, people ask for raises or bonuses only because some event causes them to immediately need extra money. This situation puts both employee and manager in an uncomfortable position. The employee has little leverage, and the manager has little business justification for increasing the employee's compensation. You can avoid this situation through advance planning. Keep in mind the following tips when you create a plan to ask for a compensation increase:

  • Gain visibility. Make sure that the people who will be making crucial decisions about your compensation are aware of you and your work. Send status reports, forward compliments about your work to your manager, make presentations whenever possible, and take leadership roles to increase your visibility.
  • Seek out opportunities. Having initiative and being helpful can increase your compensation and career opportunities. Remember that managers base compensation decisions primarily on an employee's long-term potential.
  • Set measurable goals. Present objective justification for your raise or bonus. If you don't already have measurable goals, start setting them now. For example, instead of setting a goal of manage DHCP services, set a goal of maintain 99.99 percent availability of DHCP services. The first goal simply states what someone in your role should do; the second lets you demonstrate the knowledge and skills that you bring to the job that affect business activity. Often, someone other than your manager will be making the compensation decision. By providing objective performance measurements, you reduce the possibility that someone evaluates your request on arbitrary criteria.
  • Decide what you want. Remember, organizations typically give bonuses because of past performance and grant raises for the promise of increased or continued contribution in the future. After you decide which compensation type to target, make sure you set the appropriate goals and use the right metrics. For example, ask for a bonus if you can prove that you saved the company a certain amount of money in the previous year; ask for a raise if you're implementing a program that will save the company a certain amount of money in the future. Although bonuses are tempting, raises are usually more desirable over the long term because they increase your base compensation.

Preparation
Spend time preparing your pitch. Put together your justification for the compensation increase. Your preparation should include the following tasks:

  • List your responsibilities. You might be involved in important activities that management isn't aware of. This list is essential if you're asking for a raise or promotion.
  • Compile your achievements. Your responsibilities will be interesting only to a point. Think about what you've accomplished and the effects and significance of those accomplishments. Because it can be difficult to remember the events of a year, consider keeping a log of these achievements and update it regularly. Being able to show you've made a measurable positive effect on the company will enhance your chances of convincing management to increase your pay.
  • Compare your responsibilities and accomplishments against company goals. Did you neglect to do something that your manager was expecting? If so, you need to address the situation so that it doesn't become a blocking factor. Similarly, did you exceed the company's expectations of you? If so, point out that fact.
  • Write a raise or bonus justification paper. Write a brief (one page maximum) justification for your raise or bonus. Focus on your contributions that affect the business, rather than on how many hours you worked or your responsibilities. Proofread this document for grammar, spelling, and style. These types of errors can cause management to take you less seriously.

Presentation
When you make your presentation, be clear about the amount of the raise or bonus that you're seeking and how you expect management to evaluate your worth. Be confident and concise. You might want to send your written justification to your manager in advance to give him or her time to consider it. Don't issue ultimatums such as threatening to quit unless you're prepared to follow through. You get only one chance to play this card and using it might cause management to forever question your loyalty. I recommend never going down this path.

Compensation Killers
You could do everything right and still be left out in the cold at review time if you don't keep in mind the big picture. Although circumstances that are beyond your control, such as across-the-board pay freezes, can intervene, don't underestimate the human factor. Human nature dictates that we prefer to work closely with people who are likable and fun to work with. The following four habits can undermine your effort to increase your compensation.

  • Habitual negativity. Managers spend their days solving problems. You want them to remember you for being part of the solution, not part of the problem. Habitual negativity is a sure way to become associated, fairly or unfairly, with the problems that exist in the organization.
  • Missed deadlines. Few things will set your manager steaming like missed deadlines—even when you have reasonable excuses. If you sense that a project might miss its timelines, define the blocking factors, brainstorm a plan for meeting the timeline, and communicate this plan to your manager.
  • Unwarranted arrogance. Taking too much credit, lack of contriteness, or denying your shortcomings won't sit well with your coworkers or manager. Be a team player. Give credit and compliments when appropriate and accept blame gracefully.
  • Complacency. When you ask for a bonus or a raise, you probably won't succeed if management views you as complacent. Look for opportunities to show initiative. If you do just enough to get by, management is unlikely to grant your request over the request of a coworker who goes the extra mile.

By using this three-phase blueprint, you can increase your chances of improving your compensation in the long term. Don't get frustrated if your first request fails; rather, use your preparation as a platform to discuss with your manager what types of activities and behavior would merit the bonus or raise that you asked for. Good luck!