Much of the corporate world is a political machine. In an ideal world, skill alone would get us the promotions and raises we desire. Unfortunately today the work force is the most competitive it has ever been and your skills don’t set you apart. Skills are great, but skills are commonplace across the board. How are you different? How do you make yourself a commodity to your employer, in order to get the promotion and raise you want? Think and behave politically.
I became one of the youngest managers at a well-established self-defense facility, not because of my skills but because I worked the political system. There were people that were much more qualified for the job but none of them were even considered when it came to the promotion.
I started out as a front desk girl. I fumbled through the job for the first few months and made careless mistakes. The pay was mediocre and the hours were consistent, but not enough to survive on in Los Angeles. I started looking for opportunities for growth within the company. My manager was competent but hated. I befriended other managers and began to show my willingness to grow. Slowly, I began to earn their trust and hear their displeasure with my manager. Just like that, my sights were set for that position.
I told anyone and everyone about my thirst for knowledge. My technical skills improved and I began to prove that was not so dispensable. I learned sales because sales is the driving force of any company. I was willing to come in on my days off. I was agreeable, understanding, and so wiling to help. Whenever upper management or executives were in sight, I jumped around like a squirrel looking for ways to show off my customer service and sales skills. I smiled at the right people at the right time. I became an expert at caressing egos of the people I knew would eventually help me get the promotion I wanted.
Eventually, things became stagnant and the lack of money I made gravely upset me and the property manager I was never able to pay on time. My next move was a bluff and a risk. I told them I received another job offer that paid more and unless they were able to match that, I would have to leave. Somehow, now that someone else wanted me, my perceived worth went up exponentially. I could have told them of all the numerous things I bring to the table but my words alone would not have reverberated enough. Under the subjective theory of value, an object’s, (in this case a person’s) value is not intrinsic. The object is worth much more to different people based on the how much they desire or need the object/person. My desirability instantly went up when I said someone else wanted to pay me more because they knew I was useful to the company and now they stood to lose me.
I was offered a full time sales position. Not the position I desired, but I figured I would bite my time until a managerial position opened up. Then came negotiating money. Being privy to the knowledge of how much other sales people were paid, I instantly knew their deal to me was a joke. I declined their offer and countered it with something so outrageous I knew I would never get but at least from there I could negotiate a salary I could actually survive on. Everything is negotiable as long as you have the upper hand.
As suspected, we bargained and eventually they talked me down to the price I was happy with. With a heavy sigh, I relented, making them believe they won and took the deal. Around the same time, my desired position became available and I received the call from an executive offering the job to me. They didn’t even consider anyone else because I made it so clear I wanted that position from the very beginning. The downside to exposing my intentions from the get-go was now they had the upper hand. My desire for the job outweighed my value to them. In this situation, we did not negotiate pay. I was being handed the position without any interview process, and I knew there were more technically skilled people available for the job. Without hesitation I took the offer.
At 21 years old and with only 10 months on the job, I got the promotion I wanted simply because I played the necessary game. My new title did not come without backlash from those who were there longer or more administratively competent than I, but there will always be people who are more skilled. Proficiency is only one aspect of the corporate world. Politics is a much bigger factor in whether you land that promotion or get that pay raise.
A common mistake I see made too often made by young adults is that they don’t make themselves liked to the right people and even worse they don’t make themselves known to the right people. Many people in the work force prefer to slide under the radar and not be noticed. Networking is essential, even in the company you are already working for. People are not rational beings, have conscious and unconscious biases that govern the decisions they make. Subtle assumptions about people can have lasting effects on who companies are promoting and putting into leadership positions. It is your job to give the companies the correct assumptions. Call it manipulation, call it brown-nosing but look at any successful individual and it will be evident they have more than just the necessary aptitude to do well. They are liked, they are known.
Another common mistake I see in the workforce, is the self-entitled, holier than thou, “I deserve this and I deserve that” attitude. In the corporate world, you are not special. You are expendable. You can be replaced with a dozen other equally qualified individuals. Before you go feeling like you deserve that raise because you do so much, really evaluate what you do. Are you doing your job adequately or are you going above and beyond to make yourself a commodity? Once you’ve earned your keep in a company and proven to them that you are truly deserving of more money then and only then can you ask for it. I am not saying threaten to quit like I did but make yourself someone the company cannot stand to lose. Make yourself indispensible.
With that being said, there are the people on the opposite end of the spectrum who have proven their value to a company but never get paid more because they simply don’t speak up. And to those of you diligent wallflowers who are afraid to speak up about that raise you want, I leave you off with this: If you never ask, the answer is always no.