leadership, Reflections & Questions, tips

Been there, done that: Telling an employee he isn’t getting a raise.


It’s fun to play Santa and dole out generous year-end bonuses and raises. But what if your sack is a bit light this year and instead you feel like the Grinch? Been there, done that.

It’s never fun to tell someone – ESPECIALLY great performers – that there’s just not money to reward them. And regardless of how thoughtful you are with your delivery, it will probably land with a thud.

That said, here’s what you CAN do to try to soften the sting…

First, get clear on why they aren’t they getting a raise. Is it due to their performance? Is it due to their team’s performance? Are they at the top of the pay band for their role? Has the company had a bad year?

This matters, because you’ll need to provide context. Here are some additional considerations, depending on the reason they aren’t getting more money:

Poor Personal Performance: If someone is standing in their own way and not getting more money because of their performance, they should know that! (A related tangent: You really shouldn’t be giving raises or bonuses to under-performers because it sends a bad message to the other people who have nailed it. I don’t care if you like them or if their personal finances need help: Your primary drivers should be FAIRNESS and PERFORMANCE when it comes to compensation.)

Poor Company Performance: If someone’s not getting more money DESPITE their great individual performance, it will be important to paint the broader picture for them so they understand what other factors are restricting their income. If your organization doesn’t regularly communicate the health of its balance sheet to employees, it’s probably worth finding out what information you CAN share. In addition to providing a snapshot of where things are, try to contrast it against a successful previous year so they have a better basis for comparison. And look to the near future so you can set the stage for what to expect – if the organization is on pace for better funding/revenue the next year, show that so they know what to expect. (Conversely, if there’s no hope in sight, you’ll want to talk to them about the fact that things may be flat on the income-front for a bit and explore what other benefits or rewards they could derive from their employment that would make the experience worthwhile.)

Poor Team Performance: This one’s on you. If the company’s doing well and there are bonuses/raises to be had but your team isn’t earning them due to its collective performance, you owe it to your team (and the organization) to make some changes in the new year. Create a vision and roadmap for how you’ll turn things around and share that (minus any potential staff changes) so people can see there’s a plan for success in the coming year.

Top of the Pay Band: Unless you work for a well-organized company with clearly defined and publicly shared pay bands, your team members might not realize how  they’re compensated in relation to others. This can be tricky because in your eyes, they’re already making a lot and should appreciate it – but if they aren’t aware of that, it will feel like a smack in the face if they don’t get a raise. If you can: define pay bands and communicate them. (This will become even more important as laws take effect preventing employers from asking about a new hire’s previous compensation and allowing employees to openly discuss their wages.)

If you can’t create transparent pay bands, you probably can still communicate what the top of the range is to people so they know that they’re making as much as they’re going to be able to get in their current role. If that’s the case, be prepared to talk about other roles or paths that might open up more earning potential for them.

Now that you’ve considered WHY they aren’t getting more money, some tips for the conversation itself:

  • Whenever possible, separate money conversations from performance reviews. This is a best practice even when someone IS getting a raise because you want them focused on the conversation – not distracted by money. If you currently combine these conversations, consider unbundling them and let people know to expect that.
  • If you know raises/bonuses are not likely to happen, try to give people a heads-up as early as possible. You generally get a sense of the financial climate before any compensation changes are communicated – share that with people so they have time to adjust to the idea. (To keep this informal, I’d handle it during 1-1s rather than in a team setting.) As an example, “We haven’t talked about our financials lately, but we’re off budget by X%. I’m not sure how that will impact comp adjustments, but I suspect it will be challenging to get any sort of raise or bonus approved, regardless of how well our team is doing. I just wanted to plant that seed now so you aren’t blindsided if it goes that way.”
  • When you DO have firm numbers to communicate:
    • Rip the bandaid: Get to the point quickly so they aren’t hanging in suspense.
    • Explain WHY. Provide context. This might be organizational finances, a broader look at their compensation in comparison to the overall market (if they’re already well-compensated), etc. – all the things I mentioned above.
    • Be compassionate. Even though raises/bonuses are business decisions, they FEEL very personal. Acknowledge how your employee feels and empathize. I’ve been known to say, “I know this is disappointing and I wish I could do more.”
    • Acknowledge the hard work they’ve put in and make sure they’re clear that the money is not an indication of their performance – unless it is!
    • Give them time to process. Depending on their expectations, this news can take some time to absorb. Don’t shift gears into trouble-shooting or future-planning mode too quickly. You might say, “Once you’ve had a chance to process, let’s talk about where you are and what – beyond money – might make this work feel rewarding for you over the next six months. Or if money is your big driver, let’s talk about what the options are to tap into that moving forward.”

Again, it’s never easy to disappoint someone – especially when it’s linked to something as charged as their income. While you can’t change the outcome, you can be thoughtful in how you share the news. I’m curious to hear from you: What other tips/tricks have you found helpful in delivering sub-optimal raise/bonus news?

leadership, tips

One SIMPLE way to improve your effectiveness

Image Source: https://www.pexels.com/@monoar-rahman-22660I’ve seen a lot of leaders struggling to wrangle everything that’s thrown at them and regain a bit of sanity in their weeks. Time and time again, I’ve seen one change have a huge impact on their ability to break the cycle. So what is it?

Block one hour each day for planning/thinking time. 

Seems simple, right? And yet, you’re probably already forming a list of reasons you can’t do it. Or you might be game now, but at the end of the week you’ll find that all your intended thinking time got gobbled up by fire drills. Am I right?

I said it was SIMPLE – not EASY. There is more to do than hours in each day, so the idea of taking an hour to simply THINK probably feels like a luxury you can’t afford. And yet, if you want to be effective, I’d argue that you must. Here’s why…

When you blindly allow your pace to match your environment, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. Sure, you’re getting a lot done, but how do you know it’s the RIGHT stuff? After all, as Laura Vanderkam notes in her Ted Talk, How to Gain Control of Your Free Time, “We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.”

There’s a difference between being busy and being effective. Being effective comes back to doing the RIGHT things, not ALL the things. And unless you create time to sift through all your options and be deliberate with your choices, you’re likely to blow through your task list from top to bottom (or easiest to hardest) with a sense that you’re getting things done, but at the end of the week, you won’t have much to show for your efforts other than exhaustion.

Even worse? As a leader, part of your job is to help the people on your team focus closest to the dollar or (in the case of non-profits: the impact). If you’re not creating the space to think strategically about where that is, you’ll bury your staff in an avalanche of requests (many of them urgent) and they’ll either lose sight of the goal or burn themselves out trying to stay on top of everything that’s thrown at them. And I know you don’t want that.

So how do you maximize that hour to yourself? Here’s a STARTING place:

  • First, get clear on your priorities for the quarter, the month and the week. I would hope that the quarterly/monthly priorities are a given, but if you’ve been too busy to think about that, start there. Once you have those, each week you’ll just need to figure out your top 2-3 priorities for the week. Then check your calendar and make sure it reflects those priorities.
  • Next, think about 1-2 things you can do TODAY to advance those priorities. Set a daily goal for yourself.
  • Then, look at the meetings on your calendar (for the day or the week). Are you clear on what you need to get from or contribute to each meeting to make it a good use of time? If not, get clear or find a way to scrap or the meeting. (Think about how much you bristled at the idea of giving YOURSELF an hour each day, but how often you’re willing to give others an hour of your time without knowing there will be any ROI!)

What I’ve just outlined usually takes about 15 minutes and is critical to having days and weeks that are more intentional. If you can’t yet find an hour per day, AT LEAST commit to giving yourself 15 minutes each morning for this. I’d wager that this alone will help you reclaim other time on your calendar because it helps break the mindless cycle and maximize impact instead of just showing up.

If you decide to go whole-hog and give yourself the hour each day, that remaining 45 minutes can be used for a variety of things. My clients have found it game-changing to use that time on: strategic planning, staff development, succession planning, post-morts on recently completed projects, their own development, or reading up on industry trends, to name a few.

Try it for a week and see what you notice. Start with the gift of 15 minutes on Monday morning and see if it doesn’t change the course of your day – then stick with it and see if it doesn’t change the course of your week! It’s ironic, but the more you slow down and create space to think, the more time you’ll find you have.

Now what are you waiting for? 😉


experiment, leadership, tips

Instead of calling someone out, try this.

Image Source: www.rawpixel.com

I belong to a group that meets monthly to find ways to tackle personal and systemic racism. As part of this work, members share their own beliefs and experiences related to race. There’s a tendency to tiptoe in this space because no one wants to be perceived as racist or risk offending other members. We realized early on that if we were going to make any progress, we needed to get past tiptoeing and have REAL conversations, so we established ground rules to make the space as safe as possible.

In creating those ground rules, someone suggested that we get comfortable calling each other out if we’re offended by anything that is said. This way, she explained, we would be able to address any hurt feelings rather than walking away not knowing if we’d accidentally offended. We all nodded, seeing the benefit to this approach.

Then another person in the group suggested a modification. “Instead of agreeing to call each other out, could we agree to call each other in?”

He was met by some puzzled looks that slowly gave way to smiling nods as we realized what a difference that one small tweak would make.

Calling someone OUT is about holding them accountable in a confrontational way. It puts them on the spot, implies a moral high ground for the person challenging them, and is likely to create defensiveness. Think about the last time you called someone out. How did it go? Did you deepen your relationship with the other person? Probably not. In fact, they may have walked away thinking you were a jerk.

Calling someone IN does the opposite. Instead of judging, you try to understand. You come from a place of curiosity and ask questions to understand. You invite them to clarify their thinking – which not only helps you understand where they’re coming from, but also often helps them recognize where they may have originally missed the mark. It invites deeper conversation as opposed to being a one-sided rebuke. Imagine how this conversation might go.

You’ve probably used both techniques at different times without even realizing what you were doing. What I like about “calling someone in” is that in naming the behavior, we raise our awareness of it which makes it an overt choice we can make. From my experience, the leaders who get the best from their team (and teammates) operate from this place, because it pulls their people closer instead of pushing them away.

So the next time you have a bone to pick with someone, what’s it going to be? Call ’em out, or call ’em in? I’d be curious to hear what you choose and what you notice.