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?

Career/Life Tips, Reflections & Questions, Resources

One habit to launch a great new year: pause and reflect.


I’ll admit: I’m a bit of a reflection nut. For me, life seems most meaningful when – rather than just floating through tackling the day-to-day – I make time to step back and reflect on my path. While I’m not as extreme as Socrates (“the unexamined life is not worth living”), I do tend to think that an examined life is more likely to be a fulfilling life.

As a result, I love taking the week between Christmas and New Year to pause and reflect – both looking back at the past year and ahead at the coming one. Along the same lines, I’ve never been big on New Year’s Resolutions (why would I want to limit myself to something I can only do annually?!), yet it’s still a nice time to revisit my ongoing list of goals and decide what to focus on over the course of the year.

If you have a bit of down-time during the holidays, consider giving yourself the gift of reflection. Below are some prompts to get you started. (I recommend journaling on these rather than just thinking them through. The act of writing adds a bit of heft to the project, and it’s fun to go back and look at your list the following year to see what’s remained the same and what has changed.)


  • The best thing about this year…
  • The worst thing about this year…
  • This year I am most grateful for…
  • What I would do differently this year…
  • What I’m proudest of this year…
  • What was most challenging this year…
  • Time I wish I had spent differently…
  • What brought me the most joy this year…
  • One thing I’m glad I did for myself…
  • One thing I’m glad I did for someone else…
  • One difficult conversation I’m glad I had…
  • One difficult conversation I wish I had had…
  • Biggest lessons learned:


  • How do I want to feel this year?
  • What do I want to accomplish this year?
  • Who do I want to help this year?
  • Who do I want to see this year?
  • How do I want to spend my time this year?
  • How do I NOT want to spend my time this year?
  • What do I want to learn this year?
  • What will I contribute to my community this year?
  • What’s one thing that – if I’ve done it by Dec 31, 2018, will have made this a great year?


If you’re someone who isn’t content with simply reflecting and you’d like to move to action, check out this brief Ted Talk by Laura Vanderkam (one of my favorites for busy clients) and consider how you might be able to apply her points to move your reflection into action.

Regardless of how you ring it in, I hope your new year is immensely fulfilling! 

Career/Life Tips, Reflections & Questions

Thanksgiving: a practice, not just a holiday.


There’s a lot to love about Thanksgiving: the opportunity to spend time with family and friends, the endless meal and its leftovers, football, pumpkin pie, and – in my book – the act of giving thanks. I love that there’s an entire holiday dedicated to this idea!

There are many forms a gratitude practice can take. For me, it’s as simple as listing five things I’m grateful for before going to bed each night. They can be big (the health of my family and friends) or small (getting to turn off my alarm clock the next morning). Either way, it’s a nice way to bookend a day and jar myself out of simple mindless contentment. I highly recommend it.

Now if you really want to get bang for your buck, though, don’t stop there. Move past gratitude to truly giving thanks. What’s the difference, you might ask? A gratitude practice does a wonderful job reminding you how full and fortunate your life is. Giving thanks provides expression to that gratitude. It’s one thing for me to end my day grateful to have a supportive partner, an amazing mentor, generous friends and lovely clients. It’s another thing entirely to share this with them.

It reminds me of that folk song we were taught as children: Love is something if you give it away… you end up having more! The same goes for gratitude. Sure, it can make your life rich to reflect on what you have – and it can make MULTIPLE lives rich by sharing it.

This Thanksgiving, I’m going to focus on truly giving thanks. And I’ll start with you: THANK YOU for reading my posts, for sharing them with friends, and for generally supporting my journey. It means the world to me to know that other people are chewing on the same ideas I am – and are listening to what I have to say. You get me, and I dig it.

What to play along, but not sure where to start? Here we go: 

  • Who makes your life easier?
  • Who always brings a smile to your face?
  • Who handles the details you miss?
  • Who helps pull you out of the weeds?
  • Who challenges you to be your best self?
  • Whose shoulder do you know you can cry on?
  • Who has seen you at your worst – and stayed?
  • Who tells you the truth – even when it hurts?
  • Who changed the trajectory of your life?
  • Who helps care for your children/pet/parents? 

You get the idea. Now go tell them. And Happy Thanksgiving!