Asking for a salary increase or a promotion is an intimidating prospect. But if you feel that your contributions to your practice are being insufficiently rewarded, then perhaps the time has come to raise the issue with your manager or team leader.
Business coach Sue Austin specialises in advising small and medium size practices. She suggests four considerations to bear in mind in having a discussion about your pay and your role.
Understand your practice's review process
Be professional about your request from the outset. At the risk of stating the obvious, make sure you are aware of when your next appraisal or review is due.
“Make sure you are in step with the company process: this is the path of least resistance,” Austin suggests. “Is there a way in which pay is reviewed and discussed already – a process on which to hang your request?” she asks.
Karen Fugle, Executive Coach at SleepingGiant Consultancy, concurs.
"Don’t ask at the wrong time - show awareness of the company," she warns.
If you are an early career architect, then becoming Part 3 qualified will usually trigger a default pay rise, but in all other circumstances, the appraisal process – typically conducted annually – is standard.
That does not mean that you cannot have related preparatory conversations with the appropriate person.
"Reviews should never be full of surprises," states Fugle. "You should know more or less what a manager is going to say to you and vice versa."
Forewarn your employer that you would like to discuss your salary and/or position. You might want to request a short meeting to explain this: it will allow them to prepare their response.
Plan and rehearse the conversation
Part of being professional is being well prepared for any meeting.
“Do not go into the meeting cold,” Austin counsels. “Do your homework and plan carefully, so that you will be able to have a structured conversation.”
Ask yourself why you think you deserve a pay rise and practice articulating this answer. This needs to be evidenced in terms of your own results and your contribution to your practice.
“What have you actually done?” Austin asks. “Simply having served time is not a good reason. This evidence could consist of objectives you have met, work you have delivered, and how you have helped achieve practice aims. Provide some specific examples to build your case.”
It is also worth anticipating what your response might be to a “no” in a situation in which you have made a good case.
"Many pay structures tend to be fixed, so consider what else is important to you," Karen Fugle points out. "It might not come down to money. If you are young it might come down to how much you are learning; or negotiable perks such as holiday or flexible or part time working."
Can you benchmark your salary against your peers?
Benchmarking of some kind could also be useful in assessing how your salary matches that of your peers; whether internally or in the wider industry.
“Are you behind the market rate for your level? You can bolster your case by stating that, for example, an Associate might expect to earn this amount, and evidencing that you are operating at an Associate level.”
If there is transparency of salary within your practice, you are in a position to point to the evidence of your peers. Based on that, you can determine what is reasonable.
“This is where the art of negotiation may come into play. The traditional negotiating tactic is to go in a little high: ask for more than you expect to receive, but not ridiculously so.”
Fugle points out that women may be more reticent than men in this regard. Her tip is to think of yourself as negotiating on someone else's behalf.
"Studies have shown women are better negotiators when they are doing so for other people - this can provide you with a useful confidence boost."
Do not expect an immediate result
Think of the meeting itself as potentially the first of several. Your request may not bring about the response you had hoped for. Having presented your case, try to understand the response. It could be that the financial climate, for example, makes a raise difficult for the practice.
"Be prepared for the fact you might not get an answer straight away," Karen Fugle cautions. "In order to move on, you need to agree what your employer wants to see you doing."
"You want to remain likeable: adopt a collaborative mindset and persevere. Keep having these conversations with your line manager as a process of building trust and agreeing what you have to do to get to the next step."
“Try to agree some next steps,” Austin suggests. “Do not leave the meeting with the situation left hanging. Actions can be agreed from either side: your practice might consent to review when a pay rise could be feasible, or consent to a follow-up before your next annual review. ”
Find out what objectives should be met in order for you to merit a salary increase or a promotion and be clear about how their attainment should be recognised. These should be measurable objectives, and Austin recommends setting them according to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) principles.
The most important overall point is to be prepared to have a two-sided conversation.
“Put yourself in the shoes of your employer. Be empathetic to the needs of the practice. They are then far more likely to accept your point of view,” suggests Austin.
Thanks to Sue Austin, Founder, Sue Austin Consulting and Karen Fugle, Executive Coach at SleepingGiant Consulting.
Text by Matt Milton. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.
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First published Thursday 6 January 2022