The Deadly Effect of Appearing “High Maintenance”
ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Louise, a 44-year-old SVP of Investor Relations for a career education company, was tops in her field. She worked hard, was an effective leader, and a tremendous contributor to the company. She always kept the investment community up-to-date and well-informed, and had a great reputation among her colleagues in the investor relations field. For some reason, though, she couldn’t keep a job more than two years or so, and her prospects seemed to be dimming in her present position, as well. Though she always got positive feedback from both superiors and subordinates, and had no trouble finding new jobs, her difficulties in keeping a job were perplexing. Nothing seemed to make sense. When Louise first came to us for counsel and advice, we couldn’t come up with an answer, either.
Then, over time, as we got to know Louise, we started to develop a sense of what the problem might be, something we’ve seen before, what we call “The Deadly Effect of Appearing High Maintenance.”
It seemed Louise frequently – far too frequently – raised concerns to Senior Management and HR that she wasn’t receiving her “fair share” of a number of things: stock options . . . bonus . . . a large enough office . . . even mentions in the corporate newsletter . . . etc., etc., etc. While each of Louise’s concerns was justified and appropriate, together they gave the impression of constant “gripes,” and the gripes never seemed to end. Among her superiors, her colleagues, even her assistants, the sense around her was, “What now?” and “Not again . . .”
Louise’s big mistake was her failure to appreciate that “negotiating-at-work must not appear to be nagging-ad-nauseum.” Louise forgot that making one request each year for twelve things is more effective and easier to address than making twelve requests, once each month, always for “one more thing.” Louise ignored the common sense understanding that there’s a time to negotiate, and it’s not “always, every day, forever.”
LESSON TO LEARN: Try to bear in mind that Step Two of The QVP™ Method is to “Develop Your Perception of Value.” If your requests for better salary, improved bonus, even greater responsibilities and authorities, are made too frequently, your perception of value is called into question too frequently. If your message is “I, Me, Mine” too often, people perceive you as little more than “me, me, me,” and that’s a negative perception of high maintenance, even piggish-ness.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1. Plan Your Requests: We recommend that, instead of reacting to perceived slights or unfairness whenever you become aware of them, you proactively make a plan to achieve certain workplace goals for the upcoming year, covering each element of your employment relation, from salary, to bonus, to promotion, to stock options, to severance. We call this an annual “QVP Plan.” With your own “QVP Plan” in mind, you can better assess what’s important, what’s not important, and put the important items in a planned request, not a random, spur-of-the moment one.
2. Limit Your Requests: It’s far more advantageous to both your pocketbook and career to receive three important things than it is to receive nine unimportant ones. It’s also far more likely you’ll appear reasonable if you ask once for nine important things than if you ask nine times for those same things, once each month, nine months in a row. Every time you make a request the question is asked, “Does he or she deserve this?” The more requests made, the higher the likelihood that, sooner or later, the answer will be “no.” After a few “no’s,” the question arises, “Do we really need this person at all?”
3. Time Your Requests: In preparing your “QVP Plan,” we suggest timing your requests for raise, promotion, bonus and other rewards, risk limiters and responsibilities twice each year: (1) first, at the beginning of the new year, preferably just after bonuses are given out, usually in January or February. The new year is a natural time to look, and plan, ahead. (2) Second, in September or early October, to remind yourself and your superiors of your goals, and your achievements, and to reassess those goals in light of the year’s achievements. If you’ve had yourself a good, or stellar, year, surely the bonus, the promotion, or the raise you’ve requested should be coming through.
4. Project Your Requests with “The 3 Magic R’s”: After planning, limiting and timing your requests, present them with what we call “The 3 Magic R’s”: Respect; Reasonableness, and a Rationale. Respect speaks for itself. Reasonableness is easy: keep what you ask for “in this solar system.” The third R – accompany with a Rationale – is the most important: always, always present your request with a reason, or rationale, as to why it is deserved, fair and/or necessary. Give a reason, a compelling reason, and you’ll be much more likely to prevail.
5. “Box” Your Requests: After presenting your requests, let them “sit.” Don’t set a deadline, don’t be a nag, and don’t get cranky if you don’t get an immediate answer. Be patient, and don’t follow up until it seems to be much, much longer than you’d expect an answer to take. Don’t forget: you’re not the world’s number one priority. Do yourself a favor: after making your requests, sit back awhile, get them out of your mind, and let things happen. Pushing prematurely can be resented, and backfire. Here, like most instances, “Patience is a virtue.”
Appearing “high maintenance” at work can be highly costly to you, and your career. Remember that “perception is reality.” With this in mind, and with a QVP Plan in hand, by planning your requests, limiting your requests, and timing your requests, you can avoid the appearance of “high maintenance,” and its deadly effects. And that’s surely a good thing to do.
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