When Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" discovered her salary was a mere 7 percent of what the network was paying co-host Joe Scarborough, she thought it was only fair that she got a raise. But her overtures to network executives to get a raise failed. What finally worked was asking in a confident, straightforward way and being ready to walk.
"I went in there knowing I was valued and knowing it was up to me to get the network to value me, too," Brzezinski writes in her new book, "Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth."
The whole concept of workplace worth is scary to many people. Yet it's what separates the successful and well-paid from those who stagnate and remain undervalued.
As the economy shows signs of rebounding, we all want 2012 to be the year we not only know our value, we increase it. The more power and money you earn, the greater ability you have to control your own work schedule and career direction. In the year ahead, employers beware: 24 percent of workers plan to ask for a raise, bonus or promotion and 41 percent expect to get one, an Adecco Staffing survey shows. Experts say there are myriad ways to get your employer and customers to give you deserved recognition and financial worth:
—Come up with a plan. Lauren Zander, chairwoman of The Handel Group, an executive and life coaching firm, advises against waiting around for "the company" to recognize your worth. Create a plan with your boss that outlines how to move up or get a bonus. "The one getting the promotion is the one generating that conversation." Your strategy should be to know who the decision makers are at your company and include in your plan how to impress them.
—Learn a skill that's in demand. As we have learned, value is about supply and demand. Personal branding expert Dan Schawbel said you want to become the expert in a specific skill or topic that co-workers and managers need to tap. "You get bonus points if it's a skill that is important to the company and you are known for it within the organization," Schawbel said.
Paul Kaplan, co-owner of KW Property Management & Consulting in Miami, has seen this play out at his company. One of his employees, Roxana Cabrera Dorigo, took it upon herself to learn everything about how the back office runs — from accounting to maintenance to collecting assessments. She met with clients and vendors and asked questions. "She's gotten to know our industry so well, she's invaluable," he said. Kaplan says she asked for an ownership stake in the company and he plans to give it to her.
—Go beyond your job description. I watched a colleague of mine tell her editor to think of her if he ever needed a hand with editing. She also asked other editors if she could shadow them. Pretty soon, she was spending time with editors who were above her in rank and they were giving her work to edit. It wasn't long before she got the title and salary, too.
—Expand your circle. Most of us don't care for office politicking. We also don't want to spend gobs of our free time schmoozing. But to be valued, you need friends in every department of your company and in the business community.
Zander recommends regular visits to your office lunchroom. "Make it a goal to meet two new people. Ask them questions and show interest." The more allies you have in your company, the more valuable you become.
You will also want to approach people outside the company doing what you'd like to be doing and ask them how they got there. Great places to find these power players are alumni gatherings or charity events.
—Be a rainmaker. There's nothing that speaks louder than a contribution to the bottom line. It starts with thinking bigger, and it comes with the advantage of having more control over your work life.
To lure clients, Francisco Cerezo, an international attorney with Foley & Lardner in Miami, said to make them see you as the go-to guy for anything they need. "You become the point person whether you do the work yourself or bring in a colleague." To become that go-to person, call old friends, invite people to lunch and be bold enough to ask for business.
But you also need to know what you're asking for from them, Cerezo explains. "Do your research, know what their problems are and ask for the opportunity to solve their problems for them."
Alex Sink, a senior advisor with Hyde Park Capital in Tampa, said to be a rainmaker, it's helpful to be in a function that adds to the bottom line, such as sales. But she said, even an HR manager can show contribution to revenues by hiring well and preventing costly turnover. "You become valuable by having a bottom line mentality."
—Make people see you differently. That may mean dressing better, moving your desk to a different location, losing weight and increasing your energy level or giving yourself a new title. Just like a "new and improved" household product, give the impression that you've become new and improved — and worth more.
You'll need to network differently, too. If you've been attending industry association and other networking meetings for years, change the way you behave at the events. Before you go, choose a few stand-by questions. Walk up to people you rarely talk to and ask something like, "So how was 2011 for you? Any big plans for 2012?" That opens the door for you to respond with how you can contribute to their goals.
—Know the market and be bold: Zander said you should not be making the same salary for more than six years or charging the same hourly rate for more than three years. "You're a bad business person if your rates never go up."
(Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.)
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