NYR 19-08: “Be More Productive.” Part 1 – Making Money vs. Demonstrating Value.

My original plan was to write a series on how to make more money.

After all, it’s a very common NYR, one which can take many forms: start a business, renegotiate my salary, get a promotion, etc. But I felt some resistance. After all, is this something I’m really qualified to speak to? Perhaps a better question: has anybody ever asked me for advice on making more money?

Actually yes.

It was many years ago. I was working at an accounting firm, we’d just wrapped up our fiscal year end and it was time to talk promotions/comp adjustments. And Bill, a first-year staff, had come to me for advice (and yes, I’ve changed every concrete fact in this story to protect the innocent):

“I heard that this year some of the other staff got 5% increases. I only got 3% – do you think I’m leaving money on the table if I don’t go back to the Partner and ask for more?”

Great question, Bill.

Here was my (boilerplate) answer at the time:

“Well, there certainly isn’t any harm in having an honest conversation with the Partner. He’s your boss, and you got good feedback this year. If there’s a gap between your comp adjustment and your expectations, I’m sure the Partner would want to know about it so he can address it.”

However, looking back I think I would have said something different:

“You can always negotiate. But you want to know the best time to negotiate your salary? Literally any other time of the year other than your regularly scheduled comp adjustment.

I’m not saying you should never negotiate “at the table.” There are plenty of circumstances when you absolutely should. For example, if you’re applying for a new job, negotiating skillfully can get you better results while also demonstrating competence.Another example is if you work for a company that doesn’t have regular comp adjustments, in which case it’s necessary to raise your hand to get what you deserve.

The more common “negotiating tactics” that you read about tend to focus on talking numbers towards the end. But that’s actually a small part of the bigger picture. Negotiating isn’t just about the final discussion, but about the positioning you’ve done up to that point to give yourself the leverage necessary to negotiate from a position of power.

So how does Bill position himself so that he has more leverage? The same way we all do: by demonstrating value.

The real “negotiating” happens during the entire year prior to the final discussion. Bill should have been working hard, gathering feedback, acting on that feedback, and getting noticed for doing it. Not easy, but that’s part of the job.

So what if Bill did all of that and still wasn’t on the high end of the comp adjustments. Well, in that case it might make sense for him to go back for more. But we tell Bill to go into the Partner’s office guns blazing, let’s consider two things:

  1. How does this affect the Partner, and
  2. How does this affect Bill?

The Partner may have some wiggle room for comp adjustments. But he may not. He may need to go back to the other partners and make a case for why Bill deserves more money.

So now there’s another thing on the Partner’s “to-do” list, and with a (potentially) huge drawback: it can create the perception that Bill and the Partner are not on the same page, which might not reflect well on the Partner.

Now let’s look at Bill’s side. Bill makes $50,000 a year. He was already getting a 3% bump, he pushes back, and eventually gets 4% instead. If you do the math, after taxes that comes out to about a dollar a day in additional income.

So Bill’s undergone a stressful few days/weeks of negotiating and waiting for the results, annoyed his boss (best case) or created a rift with him (worst case), and all for the price of a daily cup of coffee. Great job, Bill!

So why would Bill make such a fuss over such a nominal amount? The same reason we all would: ego. Bill heard that the other staff were making more, and felt entitled to the same.

Not every case is like this and I’m definitely oversimplifying, but my point is this: if you want to make more money, focus on demonstrating more value. Very often, the money will come.

I realize this doesn’t always work. People get taken advantage of all the time and sometimes you need to have the courage to raise your hand to get what you want. But I think that most of us (myself included) would benefit from focusing on what we can do better, rather than how much more we think we deserve.

So that’s what we’re going to focus on in this month’s series on Being Productive. We’re going to try to figure out what tasks are the highest-and-best use of our time, when to do them, and how to do them.

I’m by no means an expert at this, but I’ve been tweaking my own process of task management for the better part of a year now, which leads me to my personal NYR:

In 2019, I will plan out my daily tasks for 50% of the year. 

You can track my progress here. I’ve planned out over 100 days so far, keeping them for reference in a nice stack of papers:


To figure out the what, when and how of task management, we’re going to focus on three things: planning, prioritizing, and executing. 

Next week we’ll start with planning. In the meantime – get back to work!

4 thoughts on “NYR 19-08: “Be More Productive.” Part 1 – Making Money vs. Demonstrating Value.

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