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I recently attempted to initiate a salary discussion with my immediate boss (Director of IT); however, he said that now was "not a good time" because the project I'm on is "having issues" and we need to make headway before he can talk to our CEO about raising my salary.

This troubled me, because the only reason our project is having issues is due to the direct meddling of the CEO and other department heads. From my perspective, I have:

  • Been commended on project management and communication skills
  • Received praise for utilizing best and modern practices
  • For each decision that would impact a deadline or increase technical debt, I raised the appropriate red flags

I've been told that we can reassess in 3 to 6 months, but it's clear that he's biding time for the project to hopefully turn itself around. I can't help but feel like this is a carrot on a stick to get me to make up for the dead weight / slack caused by other party's decisions that I don't have the power to veto.

What arguments can I make to force the issue? I really don't like the idea that my performance doesn't matter, rather the ultimate success of the project I'm on (despite not having control of its direction) does.

To be clear, I have been told in not unclear terms that I am performing well above my current title's expectations. I receive praise and commendations for my work, work ethic, and efficiency frequently.

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    I can't help but feel like this is a carrot on a stick to get me to make up for the dead weight / slack caused by other party's decisions that I don't have the power to veto. A seriously underrated skill in IT is persuasion. To keep your project on time and on budget when you don't get a veto you need to persuade them to a) leave anything behind that's not in scope or b) adjust budget and deadlines anytime anything is added to scope. If you can't master this skill you are going to be screwed with every project that you don't get a veto. – Myles Jan 24 '17 at 18:08
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    Not an answer, so just a comment, but in my experience, the only way to get a raise now is to get another job. Look elsewhere or wait until later. – Guy Schalnat Jan 24 '17 at 18:45
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    How is the success of a project that you work heavily on not related to your performance? – user15729 Jan 24 '17 at 19:43
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    @fredsbend: even the best workers cannot consistently hit a target that business keeps moving on them. Especially if business doesn't actively realize that they are moving the target and causing the project not to succeed. The workers can do everything right, but still never succeed. As for the OP, I say leave the job. You're undervalued and the business is disorganized. – coblr Jan 24 '17 at 20:46
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    Ask to be moved to a project where your skills can be properly rewarded. If they say "but without you this project will completely die, and we still have hope for it", your response is "without achieving my career goals and being paid a fair amount for my skills, I will completely die. If the project is worth saving, it's worth paying to do it right. If it's not worth saving, scrap it and assign me to something where I can actually make a difference (and get paid accordingly)!" – CodeSeeker Jan 25 '17 at 3:27
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You need to distinguish between "We're not giving raises as our finances don't look good [because of this project]" and "Your performance [on this project] has us concerned and does not justify a raise.". The latter is a reason why you don't deserve raise. The former is a reason why the company can't afford to give a raise or can't afford to be seen giving raises, even if people might deserve them.

Of course a company that cares about retention will still award high performers. But even if your manager wants to reward you his hands might be tied at a higher level. The best way to do that is to discuss it with him.

When I brought the prospect of a raise up before you mentioned how now wasn't a good time given the financial trouble the project is in. I recognise that giving raises in light of that might be perceived as out of touch by some but I think that my performance on the project has been strong across the board and that a raise would be appropriate given the value I've added to my deliverables. Frankly, it feels like I'm being held accountable for something I have no control over. Is it possible to revisit that salary discussion [/negotiation]?

That's a rather basic script and it's not quite how you'd put it in a real conversation but it touches on all the basics. Adapt it for your situation and remember to bring up specific terms of praise and recognition that can add weight to your argument.

Ultimately though, this may or may not work. If your manager loves you, isn't spineless and senior management is reasonable then this will likely work. If any of that isn't true then you might be out of luck. If this falls flat I would suggest instead talking about a bonus to retroactively reward your performance. You'd need to get one in writing and given the context such a bonus would be reliant on the project actually succeeding, which is apparently not something you have control over.

Beyond that, you need to realise that while this isn't great management, it's not outside the norm and all you can really do if the above fails is to accept that this is how this company works or start looking for a new job.

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Project based budgeting is common. Look at it from their standpoint (regardless of the reasons it's failing).

You've asked them to increase an expense on a project that's already hurting. Companies that don't make profits don't give raises. For those that do project-based budgeting, it's not all that different.

The bottom line is that there's nothing you can do in a situation such as this. They're losing money on a project and you're trying to find a way to convince them to lose more (in their eyes).

Ultimately, if you want to get paid what you feel you're worth, the company has made it clear that you'll need to get it elsewhere.

If you choose to stick it out, you could tell your director that you get what he's saying and that it's possible to turn the project around, but to do that you need certain things like more authority and him to back you when you push back against other department heads and even to try to shield you from the CEO where possible.

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    What Christopher said, at my company we have the same model. At the end of the day, successfully delivered projects pay the bill, not your skill set OP. That is why sales people and project managers (to ensure good margins) get paid a lot of money. – bobo2000 Jan 24 '17 at 20:38
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    +1 for the last paragraph, especially if you have it in writing. Just don't make it sound like it was his fault that the project failed. – Pedro Jan 25 '17 at 3:02
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    One addendum to this is: Getting an offer from another company, and bringing it back to your own company for a counter-offer, is a way to shift the balance here. Then their calculus is no longer just "Can we justify the expense of giving ConfusedIT a raise"; they now have an immediate countering consideration of "Can we justify the expense of losing/replacing ConfusedIT." – Ziv Jan 25 '17 at 6:56
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    @Ziv counter offers are a little tricky (there's already good discussion on this site). I'd recommend OP to do some research and think about what he's going to say before actually saying it to his boss. Although, it's probably not a bad suggestion but it was missing a "proceed with caution" spoiler. ;) – Sufian Jan 25 '17 at 11:45
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    @ Sufian "counter offers are a little tricky" - As long as you are willing to walk away from your current job, and take the new job, then there's nothing tricky about it. – industry7 Jan 25 '17 at 17:26
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I don't know the entire conversation, but I don't interpret this as your boss trying to get you to work harder. I think your boss knows that the company is hurting financially and that a request for a raise from anyone will not be met well right now. Additionally, if your project in particular is doing poorly, the higher-ups who don't work with you daily are going to ask for more justification for why you deserve a raise.

In my opinion, your manager is on your side here. He knows a salary increase will not go through easily right now, and a failed raise now will make it even more difficult in the future. If your boss says this needs to wait until after the project shapes up, then talk about your concerns with the program and ask him to help improve conditions. If the two of you are able to turn the program around, it will make getting a raise even easier in the future. In the long run, waiting a few months for that pay increase is not a long time.

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Perhaps this echoes what Christopher Estep said, but a somewhat different perspective:

There are two different possible issues. Maybe both apply.

One: If the project is doing poorly, the company may not be able to afford to give you, or anyone else, a raise. That may not be "fair" but is simply real life. If they don't have the money, they don't have the money. If that's the case, then you have to decide whether you are willing to be patient, or start looking for another job.

Two: If the project is doing poorly, the company may think that your performance is part of the problem, and so they are unwilling to give you a raise. They may be totally wrong. Maybe you're the only thing saving them from total disaster. If that's the case, you can try to convince the people above you that you are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The best way to do that is if you can turn the project around. If you don't have the authority or resources to do that, you are in a hard position. (How you fix a failing project is a whole different question.) Or maybe the reality is that you have made mistakes or bad decisions and problems with the project are at least partially your fault, in which case you need to fix things. Either way, you've got to convince the higher ups that you deserve a raise by improving the status of the project.

  • I agree. I would add that maybe he hasn't made mistakes even. But to them, if there's a perception he has then it's effectively the same thing. – Chris E Jan 24 '17 at 18:31
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I really don't like the idea that my performance doesn't matter, rather the ultimate success of the project I'm on (despite not having control of its direction) does.

Well, you have some control. Only one person can have ultimate control (i.e., final say on any decision). Thus, the vast majority of people in the work force are being rewarded without having ultimate control.

It makes sense to reward people more when the project they are involved in does well; this gives them an incentive to do a good job (other than just the purely negative prospect of being fired if they don't). In essence, this type of reward is meant to incentivize members of a team to exert what little control they have towards a successful outcome.

On the flip side, this involves rewarding people less when the project performs poorly financially even when they've worked extremely hard.

So the main problem here is psychological; i.e., "you fell for it". You worked hard to make the project a success but it isn't (yet) and so you are not being rewarded for all your hard work. Next time, try to realize sooner that your hard work won't necessarily make the project a success, so you should take more coffee breaks and do all your online shopping at work, etc.

Overall, it's best to insist being paid the value of your work when you are doing it. If you didn't feel you were being paid at least the value of your work when you were doing it, you should've quit and found a job that pays market value. Then, from that perspective of already having been adequately remunerated for your effort, any additional reward that may be given is pure gravy.

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I assume that you are the project lead.

Warning: this answer may seem rough/offensive/negative. It is not meant to be, though. Just clear statements without any word-mincing. The term "responsibility" is used in the sense of "accountability", not in the sense of "primary cause".

the project I'm on is "having issues" and we need to make headway before he can talk to our CEO about raising my salary.

As you are one level below "Director of IT", you are quite near the top of the food chain already. I assume that there's only one or two more levels of hierarchy above the "Director of IT".

In that role, it is perfectly normal for you to be judged by the success of your project, quite frankly. As a project lead, that is the only thing that should count for you.

This troubled me, because the only reason our project is having issues is due to the direct meddling of the CEO and other department heads. From my perspective, I have:

I would suggest steering away from this train of thought, which translates to "I did everything great, but my project fails because of XXX which I cannot influence".

If your project is flailing, you, as the project lead, are responsible. Period. No matter what the actual reason is.

If there is something that needs to be done, and you are not able to do it, then it is your job to talk with your boss and have him enable you to do it.

If your CEO meddles in your project, and you see that it causes the project to fail, then do something. A CEO has no business meddling several steps of hierarchy below. If you tried and tried and tried again, and you cannot stop him meddling, then it's time to look for a new job, not for a raise.

At that levels, bosses do not want to hear explanations. Giving explanations is being defensive; and you do not want to look defensive.

Although I know nothing about your project, my advice would be:

  • Identify exactly why your project is not going well.
  • Identify measures which will resolve the problems.
  • When you are sure that you have the correct measures (which might include unthinkable things like putting the CEO in his place), have a tough talk with your boss about them. Make sure he is fully on your side. If you cannot achieve that, you have failed right there.
  • Then, go through with your measures. If that means that you or your boss go to the CEO, then so be it. If both of you feel that it is utterly impossible, then logically there is no way this project will ever succeed. Time to get out. If you get the CEO to stop whatever he is doing, you can be certain that you have either burned bridges (get a new job...) or that you have earned a lot of respect (plus, likely, a rise if the project should recover from its misery).

Hope that helps. It's not easy.

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    I wouldn't throw around a word like "responsible" so loosely. In a world as random and chaotic as ours, I wouldn't presume to assign "responsibility" for a failed project to any specific person. Consider how frequently good stuff is produced that just doesn't sell, which makes the customer responsible, if anyone. – DepressedDaniel Jan 26 '17 at 0:09
  • @DepressedDaniel Maybe "accountable" is the better word here. – Paŭlo Ebermann Jan 29 '17 at 18:49
  • Thanks, @DepressedDaniel, that's of course the intended meaning. I've updated the answer. – AnoE Jan 29 '17 at 19:01
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I don't think that it's about your performance not mattering at all, but it has to be put into the context of the projects you work on and how much the company makes.

What you can ask for is for your manager to increase the amount of your contribution to the project. I don't know if they have exact numbers, but let's say they have calculated how much this project is worth and how much they want to compensate everyone = Total Bonus. If they felt you should get 10%, you may want to ask for more.

There is a problem if you don't know what you'll get or how much you've been perceived as contribution to the project. You can say you're contributing more, but how much more and more than what?

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