All The Right Moves: Meanwhile, Back at the Office…

The new realities of life inside stressed-out companies.

12. Business is terrible. How do I ask for a raise?

Only someone with incredible chutzpah would go to the boss for money now, right? Maybe not. Salary hikes aren’t what they used to be. But if you’re doing great work, you may be able to land better compensation.


Here’s counsel from Jeff Hyman, whose firm, Canal Street Talent Management, represents executives. First, convince your boss that a raise would be cost-effective. If you’re a star, it might take two lesser employees to replace you. “If you can demonstrate that two people would cost $250,000, and you’re making $150,000, then there’s probably some middle ground.”

Even so, Hyman says, “it’s hard to ask for an increase in salary.” Try to negotiate an in-crease in the variable component of your pay, such as a bonus tied to higher revenue or lower expenses. “Get your manager to agree in advance that you should share in those results.” The key phrase: “in advance.”

A riskier fallback: Request an equity stake, in the form of stock or options. The investment won’t require a cash outlay from your employer, and it demonstrates your commitment. If that fails, get your boss to agree to another review in three to six months. That lets her know that the matter is important and forces her to keep it on the table. Keith H. Hammonds


13. How do I dress for success?

We’re just as confused about business casual as you are. Is it in or out? A relic of the ’90s or a smarter way to work? For an answer, we turned to George A. Zimmer, founder and CEO of the Men’s Wearhouse Inc.

“Our suit sales are up more than 10% over last year,” says Zimmer. “In certain environments, it’s still okay to dress casually. But we’re seeing changes in policy on Wall Street, where firms such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are starting to require jackets and ties. Lawyers tell me that they are dusting off their suits, because their clients are dressing more formally.

“The reasons for this are interesting. First, the dotcom world was the epicenter of business casual, and when that unraveled, so did the lifestyle. And since the election of President Bush, there has been a return to traditional values in America. That seems to be prompting changes in how people dress.


“What men have been struggling with for years is that we prefer to dress more casually, but we all know deep down that when we wear a suit, we make a better impression and we appear to be more knowledgeable and professional. Plus, let’s face it: It’s just a lot easier to get up in the morning and pick out a suit than it is to mix and match and try to figure out what’s appropriate.” Keith H. Hammonds

14. How do you get employees to do more without paying them more?

Memo to: CEOs
From: Your loyal (but slightly unmotivated) colleagues

Here’s the thing, boss: It was never really about the money. Sure, it seemed that way a few years ago, amid guaranteed bonuses, sky’s-the-limit options, and salary increases. When talent was scarce, you threw money at us and hoped that it would stick.


You got lazy. You threw money at us because that was easier than actually managing us. As business boomed, says John Sullivan of San Francisco State University, “managers forgot how to motivate.”

Not that we minded the money. But nearly every credible survey on employee satisfaction shows that money isn’t what greases our skids. Here’s what’s important: challenging work, a sane supervisor and respectful colleagues, and the promise of career growth.

You know how Southwest Airlines gets its workers jazzed? Every three months, an honored employee chooses the menu for a party of 15 — and top management does the cooking. “Not only is it a blow-away honor that excites people,” says Bob Nelson, coauthor of The 1,001 Rewards and Recognition Fieldbook (Workman, 2003), “but it has turned into a team-building thing for management.”


It’s not about the money. It has taken a recession for bosses to figure that out. How do you get more out of us when you don’t have anything to give? Start by getting us to help. Try asking, “What would make you more productive?” And, “What’s slowing you down?” They’re powerful questions, first because they oblige us to take responsibility for our productivity, and second because they demonstrate your willingness to admit that we workers are — yes! — individuals, cheered and discouraged in myriad ways.

“Open a dialogue. See the person as a mass of interesting data that has to be explored,” says Beverly Kaye, coauthor of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay (Berrett-Koehler, 2002). Kaye recalls speaking to 1,200 managers at Wells Fargo Bank and asking them, “How many of you have ever been told by your boss, ‘You’re critical. I want you to stay. What I can do?’ ” Only a handful raised their hands.

“Why don’t more managers ask?” Kaye wonders. “They don’t ask because they’re afraid of what they’ll be told.” They worry that their stars will want a raise when there’s no money in the budget or a promotion where none exists.


As it turns out, what employees want and what their bosses think they want, surveys reveal, tend to diverge wildly. If you don’t ask, you won’t have a clue. Not only do we want different things, but our answers are subtly shaded and ever changing. We are complex individuals who pursue all sorts of different things: challenges, lifestyles, opportunities to learn, variety. To motivate us, you’ll have to get under our skins.

“One problem is the creation of linear models for motivation — as if people lead linear lives,” says Donald Novak, a founding director of the Exetor Group and an organizational-development consultant. In most organizations, employees climb carefully orchestrated hierarchies. “And that is probably the biggest affront to multifaceted people, because they are constantly changing. Their employers have to keep pace.”

If you do ask, you’ll find that much of what we want doesn’t cost so much to give. It’s more a matter of thinking differently about how we work. “We’re not talking about a group that you have to find lots of things for,” says Novak. “It usually doesn’t have to do with resources. It’s about the corporate mentality of cautiousness.”


The best employees, Novak observes, are risk takers. They are connectors who reach out and invent new things. When business gets bleak, many companies discourage risk takers by rewarding caution and by erecting barriers that thwart connections.

So here’s an idea. Want to motivate us? Don’t worry about the money (for now). Try getting out of our way instead. Keith H. Hammonds

15. What’s the smartest way to get fired?

If you’re a top executive, your biggest priority should be positioning yourself for the next gig. That means going out nicely — no public acrimony, no lawsuits. If a public statement covering your departure is to be issued, the phrases “by mutual agreement” and “strategic differences” can put the best face on your untimely exit.


Jim Citrin, a recruiter who heads the technology practice at Spencer Stuart, advises one thing more: Don’t be greedy. “No financial settlement is worth having your reputation forever tarnished,” Citrin says. “Failing is one thing; failing and being greedy about it is never a good combination.”

If you’re not leaving the executive suite, greed probably isn’t an option. Most likely, you will have little choice but to accept the standard severance package. But if your termination isn’t part of a wholesale downsizing, that package may be open to negotiation. “People don’t like firing other people,” Citrin explains. “So if you realize how uncomfortable your boss is, you can use that to your advantage. Play to that person’s humanistic side. Try to find a way to get the most attractive package possible.”

If generous severance pay is out of the question, negotiate for other departure perks. Ask your boss to be a reference or to write a generic note of recommendation for future employers. Better yet, ask your boss to place a call or two on your behalf. Get him to tap into his network. Those calls may lead to your next job — and they might make your boss feel better about canning you. Keith H. Hammonds


16 . What is the single best interview question ever — and the best answer?

Memo from: Nick Corcodilos, author, headhunter, and publisher of the Web site Ask the Headhunter.
To: Hiring managers everywhere
Re: Reinventing the job interview

The purpose of any interview is simple: to determine whether the candidate can do the job profitably. A smart interview is not an interrogation. It’s not a series of canned questions or a set of scripted tests that have been ginned up by HR. An interview should be a roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on meeting between you and the candidate, where all of the focus is on the job. Think of the interview as the candidate’s first day at work, with the only question that matters being this: “What’s your business plan for doing this job?”

To successfully answer that, the candidate must first demonstrate an understanding of the company’s problems, challenges, and goals — not an easy thing to do. But since you desperately want to make a great hire and get back to work, why don’t you help the best candidate succeed? Two weeks before the interview, call up the candidate and say the following: “We want you to show us how you’re going to do this job. That’s going to take a lot of homework. I suggest that you read through these 10 pages on our Web site, review these publications from our marketing and investor-relations departments, and speak with these three people on my team. When you’re done, you should have something useful to tell us.” This will eliminate 9 out of 10 candidates. Only those who really want the job will put in the effort to research the job.


At the interview, you should expect (or hope) to hear the most compelling question that any candidate can ask: “Would you like me to show how your company will profit from hiring me?” The candidate should be prepared to do the job in the interview. That means walking up to the whiteboard and outlining the steps that he or she would take to solve your company’s problems. The numbers don’t have to be right, but the candidate should be able to defend them intelligently. If the candidate demonstrates an understanding of your culture and competitors — and lays out a plan of attack for solving your problems and adding something to your bottom line — you have some awfully compelling reasons to make the hire. But if you trust only a candidate’s references, credentials, or test results, you still won’t know whether the candidate can do the job.

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