Good Pay, Good People

Good Pay, Good People

In a recent blog I talked about the gap between our pay increase expectations and reality, as well as how compensation gets set. In this one let’s address earning expectations.

A lot of people tell me they are thinking that all they need is another degree, another certificate, or just a better boss, and then they’ll make more money. While I’m listening to them describe the details of their situations, I’m sizing them up. I listen to their expectations and their reasoning. I study their communication styles, their thoughtfulness, their approaches, and their backgrounds—both experience and education. Here are some things I have observed when it comes to compensation.

#1: Your early decisions affect your lifetime compensation. Thinking about what you will earn is a good thing to do at 20 and is a lot harder at 40. It’s passion versus practicality. Many people are more about passion when they are younger, but it doesn’t take long to realize that passion doesn’t pay the bills. Or let you outgrow roommates. Practicality does. Let’s take graphic designers. I know quite a few of those. A couple do really well because they are at the top of their games and they drive results. Then there’s a pack behind them. Beware of packs. That’s because when there is a pack of people with you, that drives pay down. It’s not necessarily a function of how important you are or even how good you are, but of how many of you there are. This is true of jobs that require specialized skill (i.e., think graphic designers and editors) as well as jobs that require little specialized skill (and therefore have more people that can do them). The fewer people there are to do the jobs, the higher pay tends to go; the more people there are, the lower pay tends to go. Editors perform really valuable jobs, but most will not be in the highest earning positions. I still hear talk about people having multiple careers in their lifetimes. It can happen, but the fact is that we all develop areas of expertise fairly early and breaking out of them isn’t as easy as some people think. The message isn’t to ditch passion and go for what makes the money. That gets old fast. The message is to find your balance, and have practical expectations. And know that changing careers isn’t something you do at the drop of a hat.

#2: It’s your job, not you. People tend to focus on themselves. “I’ve been here for four years; I should make more,” “I just got my _______ (fill in the blank… certificate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate); I should make more.” “I’m smart and good; I should make more.” Sometimes it’s about those things, but as a general principle, we need to understand that companies are paying for the job we perform or the contribution we make. My favorite example of this comes from someplace I worked early in my career. We had an employee who loved learning. She also loved being a receptionist and the associated lack of stress. She ended up with a doctorate in something or other, and came to see me, asking, “Can I get an increase since I just got my doctorate?” I had to look her in the eye and say, “But we don’t need a receptionist with a doctorate…” She was a fascinating person, but the value of her contribution wasn’t changing because she increased her education. That’s an obvious example, but people ask similar questions all the time. Here’s the take away. Think twice before you say, “I’ve had this job for four years and should make more.” Ask yourself, “Am I more valuable than someone who’s been here for one year?” The Julie answer: You better be!

#3: But it can be you. This comes back to what I observe when I talk with people. You have to be good. Good people earn more. They also keep their jobs longer, move on to even better jobs, and thrive in general. What does good mean? Good means you go above your job description. It means you have great communication skills. You’re a positive force. You don’t complain; you offer constructive criticism and offer solutions. You contribute to the team and to the vibe. Here’s a big one: you don’t require much maintenance (attention). You’re generally fun to work with. Good people resolve problems, and don’t create them. And most importantly, good people stay relevant. Mature workers, take note of that last one. Good means you are clearly a good investment, and everyone knows it. Good increases your value and your earning potential now and in the future.

Almost all of my coaching comes down to being good to work with and being relevant. Are you good? Are you relevant? And have reasonable expectations, of others and of yourself.

Julie Nielsen is president of Oyster Organizational Development, a firm that helps organizations and individuals be wildly successful through organizational effectiveness strategies and coaching. Julie has over 30 years of experience in helping organizations and individuals succeed.