Published on September 8th, 2004 by Alan L Sklover
ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: For three straight years, Arlen’s trading of mortgage-backed securities for his firm was highly successful, in fact exceeding everyone’s expectations. Total revenues went up dramatically each year, as did profits, well beyond budget. And as Desk Manager, he’d also kept overhead in check. Yet each year Arlen was disappointed with his year-end bonus; each year’s bonus was smaller than the last. And each year he’d been told, “The decision was a difficult one, but it’s been made; we’ll make up for it next year.”
To make sure he wouldn’t be disappointed again, Arlen consulted us, and together we set out a strategy. Arlen set out to: (a) enhance his Perceived Value, (b) to the Person or Pocket of Power or Profit (his “P.P.O.P.P.”) who made his bonus decisions, (c) to gain Assurances of Reward, and (d) to Confirmed these Clearly. More simply, to Set His Boss’s Bonus Expectations. Sounds tricky, maybe difficult, surely confrontational. It’s not any of those: it’s simply a matter of “making your case while the sun shines.”
Putting his strategy into action, during July and August, while his kids were away at camp, Arlen put together year-to-date numbers, and reasonable year-end projections. He also assembled what bonus data he could garner for Desk Managers at other firms, as well as what little he knew of his colleagues’ bonuses. Two headhunters gave him assistance. He also considered who at his firm would be most influential in deciding next year’s bonus, that is, who would be his “bonus target,” who he felt held most “sway” in his bonus decision. Arlen also considered two possible back-up plans: an internal “alternative reward” to request if his expectations weren’t fulfilled – promotion to Director Level – and an external plan as well – moving to another firm’s competing desk.
In September, right after his kids started back at school, Arlen requested a short meeting with Evelyn, his firm’s Head of Trading. Keeping in mind SkloverWorkingWisdom’s™ “three R’s of making a request” (respect, reasonability, a strong rationale), Arlen laid out his case for the bonus amount he expected, factoring in to the calculation his success over the three years, and the other data he’d collected. He laid out his case with care, clarity, respect and determination, and left Evelyn with a written summary at the end of the meeting. Sensing her own interests at play, Evelyn urged patience, and told Arlen “Don’t worry…things will work better this year.” Most importantly, Arlen followed up the brief meeting with a “thank you” email to Evelyn, mentioning her assurances, and attaching a copy of his written request and rationale.
During her own debates and deliberations about the bonus pool later that fall, Evelyn felt the subtle pressure of Arlen’s request and rationale. She remembered, especially, his “value” to her. While Arlen kept up the positive performance of his trading desk, he also sent her periodic reports of the achievement of his projections. In December, Arlen politely reminded Evelyn of how much he appreciated her support. It was a careful and keen management of Evelyn’s perceptions, and expectations, and was entirely successful: Arlen’s bonus was, to the penny, what he’d asked for. Next year, his negotiation goals will include a larger bonus, and maybe even additional stock options. All using a simple, yet powerful method: SkloverWorkingWisdom™.
LESSONS TO LEARN: Bonuses are given for two reasons: (a) reward for performance, and (b) incentive to perform next year. However, in most companies, the amount of bonus given out is not set in stone, or the result of an objective formula, but “discretionary,” that is, arrived at subjectively, by a decision of one or more powerful decision-makers whose decisions depend, in good part, upon their own perceptions of their own interests. But don’t rest assured that your boss, and your boss’s boss, is aware of your value to them. To the extent that you can (a) affect that bonus decision, and (b) achieve assurances, understandings, or even promises of what you want, you need to do so. Utilizing the rational, proactive, value-based SkloverWorkingWisdom™ Method as a guide, you can achieve far greater success than you have in the past, and even more than you might imagine.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: Each year, during the quiet months of July and August, prepare your own plan to “Set Your Boss’s Expectations of Your Year-End Bonus” using these seven simple steps:
1. First decide your bonus goal, and consider who would be your Person or Pocket of Profit or Power (“P.P.O.P.P.”), that is, your best, targeted bonus-decision-maker.
2. Gather data that supports your specific request.
3. Focus in on how to best improve your Perception of Value to your P.P.O.P.P.
4. Being entirely Respectful, Reasonable, and with a strong Rationale, present your concerns and your goal to your decision-maker. Ask for assurances, if not commitments. “Will you advocate for me?” is helpful, as well.
5. Follow up with a “Thank You” email, reminding your P.P.O.P.P. of his/her assurances, and your talk. Attach your data.
6. Maintain contact with your P.P.O.P.P., especially near year-end, as a reminder of your expectations and their assurances.
7. Always remember to “fold your parachute,” that is, make sure you have realistic alternative paths available to you, internally as well as externally.
If you would like to obtain our Model Memo to Set Your Bonus Expectations with Your Boss, just [click here.] Shows “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ Delivered by Email – Instantly!
Always bear in mind that this is not an adversarial process, no matter how disappointed you’ve been in the past. This is intended to be just the opposite: resolution of a problem that, in fact, brings about a greater sense of fairness, which should serve to improve your working relation. And bear in mind, too, that if this doesn’t work, at least you’ve done your best, you’ve learned that the chances are good that you won’t get paid what you think you’ve earned at this firm, and it may just be time to seek “greener pastures elsewhere.” But remember, too, that bonuses are negotiable, and this is the way to do just that.