I've worked for a small startup for a little over a year. I have a performance review coming up next month, and I'd like to ask for a raise. I've brought a lot of money and partnerships to the company, and we just closed a round of funding, so I feel good that I can justify a raise.
But I'm a little nervous because, at my company, all decisions are made by the three co-founders together. My review will also be held with all of them. Any tips for negotiating when it's three-on-one?
Dear Little Nervous,
What an amazing opportunity!
I say that because you work for a company in which the founders make it a leadership practice to know their employees and stay connected to the human resources aspect of their business. In many companies, gaining this access to leadership and having conversations that let you communicate what you have to offer is a constant struggle. This is your chance to be seen and heard, to distinguish yourself from everyone else, and to show how your strategies, skills, and strengths increase the company’s productivity and profitability.
The flip side of the opportunity, of course, is the nerve-wracking feeling of “performing” for three people. Back in the day when I was an actor, I routinely found myself in a room with as many as nine people, from the casting director to the producer to the director’s nanny, wondering whose set of eyes I would focus on for the reading. It always felt like they were all just waiting for me to screw up.
But that was never really the case. As daunting as the review may seem, it’s important to remember that you already have the job, and they want you to do well. Plus, the founders are likely as anxious as you are about how the meeting will unfold. They’re human, and they, too, worry about how they might be perceived, what questions and concerns they might have to field, and how to best respond to those questions and concerns both now and in the future.
On that note, I’ll start with a few tips on group dynamics that will help you set the stage for a positive meeting.
The most important element of your conversation is making an authentic connection with everyone in the room before diving into the business at hand. Your founders are likely going to start off by appreciating you or thanking you for your time, or even acknowledging that having the three of them in the room might be a little daunting for you. You can add to the ice breaking by using what you know about them. For example, if one is rabid Dodgers fan, talk about their season so far. If another is a foodie, tell them about a new restaurant they might like. And, of course, be yourself.
Also, try to match the overall energy of the room. This can be tough—you may find that one of the founders is chatty and happy while another is serious and quiet. But your job is to find the right blend and match the general style of the conversation. If it’s convivial, share your enthusiasm; if it’s serious, roll up your sleeves. A good rule of thumb in these group meetings is to treat everyone in the room with equal respect, making eye contact with each one when asking or responding to questions.
Now, let’s talk about the actual negotiation.
As with any interview, review, or audition, the key is in the preparation. So your first step is listing your accomplishments for the year. All of them. You undoubtedly know how important this is, and you very likely have kept notes throughout the year. If not, spend some time reflecting, and leave nothing out.
Then, write down how each accomplishment benefited the company. Part of what makes reviews so irksome is the prospect of talking about yourself or bragging. You can turn this around by expressing your accomplishments in the light of what they did for the company. The revenue produced, contracts signed, partnerships forged, and so on.
In addition, identify the specific skills or strengths each accomplishment required. The purpose of doing this exercise is two-fold: First, it allows you to discover common themes and patterns—a set of skills or strengths that you can discuss in your review. Second, it will help you identify the activities you want to continue doing, and those you wish to retire even though you’re good at them. As you move up in your career, you want to be very clear about what you can let go of or delegate so you can be working strategically and efficiently and doing what you love.
Next, prepare for the meeting by knowing the points you want to cover and the requests you want to make. I’m assuming you’ve already plotted out exactly what you’re asking for in terms of compensation and benefits (and if not, you can find some helpful guidelines in our response to another reader)—so now, it’s a matter of how to make that ask.
The founders are likely going to have a process for the meeting, and a place for your questions, so be prepared when the opportunity arises to talk about how you've been a great hire and are an asset to the company. By tying in examples of how your work has benefited the company as you talk about your past work and future projects, you lay the groundwork for partnering with them in addressing future challenges and solutions and making the case for your raise.
But really? You’ve already done so, right here. Let’s circle back to your statement: “I've brought a lot of money and partnerships to the company, and we just closed a round of funding, so I feel good that I can justify a raise.”
You should feel good! So let’s imagine you’ve done your homework and preparation, and researched your market value, and you’re now at the point in the review where you make your salary request. Here’s a twist on your statement:
“I’ve brought a lot of money and partnerships to the company and we’ve just closed a round of funding, and we’ve talked about a lot of projects and initiatives today. I’ve also done some salary benchmarking research and I’d like to turn the value I provide into a salary increase of X.”
Your next step? Be quiet. Allow them time to say yes.