Series: Q&A Leaders On Leadership


Q&A (unedited) On Leadership

Charles Michael Austin, Ed.D. (“Dr. Chaz”)  is President at Dr. Charles Michael Austin.  He is a Career Mentor, College Professor & Curriculum Designer at various colleges and universities in Southern California.

How important in the roster of leadership qualities are attitude, habit and discipline? What weight would you assign them?

I assume discipline is present – in any professional. And certainly in a leader.
Habit can – and usually does – have a downside. As in, “that’s the way we do things around here.”
Attitude is the key. Are you open to new ideas? Can you make course corrections as needed? Can you give credit to a subordinate for something you didn’t think of? Can you get your own ego out of the way? We’ve probably all had bosses who’ve said to us, “My door is always open.” Going for the bait, we’ve gone in to pitch a new idea, only to leave the office like a flat tire because of the boss/leader’s needed to dominate.

What others, in your opinion, are coveted qualities of business leaders?

A.  The ability to shut up and listen.
B.  Making the people that report to you feel valued for their contributions.
C.  Being crystal clear about what you want – and by when you want it.
D.  Perspective. Except for hospital emergency rooms, no one is going to die if a deadline is missed. But so many leaders behave as if it’s always a life and death situation. It’s not. If you can lighten up, it goes a long way towards making those who report to you feel safe. People are more likely to take risks if they feel safe.
E.  Allowing people to fail. If you’ve hired good people and let them do their jobs, they will occasionally screw up. There is no need to berate them. You’re not their mom/dad and they’re not your “bad” child. They’ll learn from their mistakes and probably not repeat them.

Do you think there is finally equality between men and women in the work place?

No. Things have improved, but we need to be continually vigilant. Sometimes it feels like the Womens’ Movement never happened. Look at the ongoing popularity of “laddie magazines.” We’ve reverted to objectifying women, and that sort of attitude no doubt spills over into the workplace. As Erma Bombeck said, “We’ve got a generation now who were born with semi-equality. They don’t know how it was before, so they think, this isn’t too bad. We’re working. We have our attache cases and our three piece suits. I get very disgusted with the younger generation of women. We had a torch to pass, and they are just sitting there. They don’t realize it can be taken away. Things are going to have to get worse before they join in fighting the battle.”

When most companies are tightening their belts and employees are not shaking things up, how much does risk taking (challenging the corporate orthodoxy) play a part in your advice for executives seeking to stand out in a corporation?

My advice is: don’t. Companies say they want “outside the box” thinking, but in practice they don’t. You want to take risks, start your own company.

Brevity is becoming a communications fact of life. When is brevity not such a good idea?
When it replaces genuine communication. Human beings are inclined to avoid confrontation. A quick tweet or text or email helps us dodge the uncomfortable face-to-face meeting where bad news needs to be conveyed. I think one of the things that has helped make me successful is that confrontation is one of my hobbies. I’ve always found that being direct with people deepens relationships. Not direct as in “you’re bad and wrong, and here’s why,” which is verbal vomiting that disempowers people. I’m talking about collaborative communication whose context is “what worked/what didn’t.” That takes it away from the personal attack, shifting the focus to problem solving.

You are a specialist in career development. What are the differences between setting a career path in your twenties and in your forties or even fifties?

Presumably, by the time you’ve hit forty, you’ve gained some wisdom and developed some sense of what your talents are and where and how you can make a contribution to others. My clients and students who are in their twenties very seldom have a career path. They may have a passion (or so they think), and my advice to them is to get to work in some capacity in their field of choice to learn where and how they fit.

The meta-conversation, though, is that most people do things in their careers that they never would have imagined in their twenties; that career choices are usually unplanned accidents or matters of serendipity. If someone would have told me in my twenties that I’d hold a Doctorate in Education and (among other things) be a college professor, I would have told them that they were crazy and that that would never, never happen. You need to be open to the unexpected.

What is one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

Ego. “I’m the boss. I know best.”

Your Ed.D. dissertation discusses the inherent value of career coursework in higher education. What is your summary finding on planning for a career when college is often a place to “find ourselves”?

That’s both the subject of my dissertation and my book (to be published later this year).
Having some career direction by the time you graduate is part of finding ourselves. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, you’ll need to make money after you graduate (if only to start paying off your student loans). There’s enormous pressure on college students (from their parents, usually) to find “the perfect job,” and so many students have no clue what that might be – or even what they want to do.  So, just get to work. If it’s not what you (think you) love, then at least have it be something you’d like to do. Get started. Meet people. Learn things. Trust that you’ll find your way – and eventually discover you passion(s). That’s plural because most people in their twenties can expect to have five or six careers. So even if you do find “the perfect job,” there will most likely be others during your lifetime.

What expectation is realistic when it comes to setting today’s career path?

Corporate loyalty is dead. Everyone is a freelancer, and their own brand. People need to be trained to determine, articulate and sell that brand – for as long as they work. The sooner they start doing that, the better their chances of continuing to find work that’s satisfying – both creatively and financially.

How To Measure Your Social Media Personality.


The triggering event, of course, is the advent of a global communication
system that restores the banter of the bazaar,
that tears down power structures and senseless bureaucracies,
that puts everyone in touch with everyone.

From The Forward to the Cluetrain Manifesto
By Thomas Petzinger, Jr., The Wall Street Journal Author of The New Pioneers

Quotient or DNA? That’s the question.
If you have a Digital Quotient, you’ve learned most of your way through Microsoft Office, AOL, Hotmail or some other free email service and more than likely have your “tech guy” on speed dial. If you have Digital DNA, you probably had a MAC before Apple was chic, must have the latest gear and don’t need to flaunt it (you buy the plain black skin for it without a logo) and you can’t wait to get your sticky little fingers (from late night Twinkies, of course) on any new apps, programs, code, inside news, gossip AND your hacker’s on speed dial.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The End of Business As Usual

Somewhere in between is where I am. I had the first Apple laptop back in the early 1990’s, my favorite people are geeks and the digital references I make are over most people’s heads. Ok, so now that we’ve established that, there’s the matter of the digital divide. Still here and still thriving. I was around for the commercialization of the Internet and a thing called the Cluetrain Manifesto“, written in 1999. That document was created, among other reasons, to inform marketers and advertisers that people using the Internet don’t want to be sold to. In short, as Thomas Petzinger, Jr., The Wall Street Journal put it, “an obituary of business as usual. ” And I quote:

The idea that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human.
That engineering remains second-rate without aesthetics.
That natural, human conversation is the true language of commerce.
That corporations work best when the people on the inside have the fullest contact possible with the people on the outside.

Fade out. Fade in. It’s the 2011, Ad Age Digital Conference here in New York City and the same principle applies. The conference is sold out and yet, the Keynote and other speakers, pretty much reiterate the same idea that those guys did. The difference is that marketers have to have their backs, or bucks, against the wall before they get the message.

This year’s conference was mostly about this. About staying out of the consumer’s way. About NOT selling but joining. About being a buddy (as in Media Buddy) and not a bully. About EXpression, not IMpression. The market place is changing so rapidly that we marketers and advertisers can’t consume the information about this change fast enough. As a sidebar, the year one Ad Age Digital conference had no sponsorship dollars at all. Now in only five years time, there are more than twenty. Presentations were delivered by such important companies as Google, Electronic Arts, Samsung, Lexus, Best Buy, Converse, Dell and more.

Aren’t We Always Rethinking Advertising?
First there were cave walls. Fast forward to print, radio, TV, satellite, digital etc etc. Each one of these innovations brings a retrench. Most professional marketers know this and still, there’s a lot of time and money spent measuring past results to predict future ones.

Ad Age Keynote Marketer Panel

Karen Quintos, Dell CMO, discusses the IT women bloggers who contribute to Dell's online community

Social Activity (like communities, polls, Q&A, notifications, status, comments, games, group buying, virtual currency, social missions, social goods, check ins and the rest) is the largest consumption of time spent on the Internet today. To get marketers in the stream of activity means leaning forward like your customers are.  This is activity, Folks, not media. Before activity was outside of advertising, now a marketer can leverage activity in the mainstream to have contact with 100 million people on a monthly basis to, say, help consumers build a virtual city.

Brand Lift Is The New Holy Grail.

Though corporations insist on seeing it as one,
the new marketplace is not necessarily a market at all.
To its inhabitants, it is primarily a place in which all
participants are audience to each other.
The entertainment is not packaged; it is intrinsic.
From Introduction to the Cluetrain Manifesto by Chrsotpher Locke

If you aren’t hip to this, sorry, but you’re already behind the eight ball. That is to say, if you’re still looking at click through rates as a measurement, forget it.  If you’re still living in a world of display-click-impressions-banner ad next to content, the digital ecosystem has shifted to the next gear, the new way in which consumers view the brand. The flailing that research was doing while the ship was turning from past performance to real time left a lot of people, technological innovation and creative ideation mistakenly in its wake. Now, the tools for this have gotten a lot more sophisticated in a very short time. Companies like Point Roll and AppsSavvy would like to help you optimize your exposure. Marketers who are finally asking the right questions (not how big they are on ComScore and Nielsen and how many pages they have) but instead, “what are PEOPLE doing”, have a shot.

Friendster, Napster, MySpace, Facebook. What do they all have in common?
The answer is freedom. Each in its time carved a space for open discussion and sharing of ideas (creative branding or otherwise) Free space for anyone and anything to be highly energized by access and information like never before. In the old days, I was part of the Southern California (405) Group Listserve (remember those?) where a bunch of geeks, who rarely met face to face, discussed the Internet and problem solved collaboratively. It was not unusual for an entire thread to go on for weeks including barbs, open insults, challenges, put downs, throw downs and a ton of really cool information.
 These were developers, inventors, code writers, thinkers, hackers and  pioneers. One day a guy looking a lot like a Hells Angel rode his bike into our offices on Main Street in Venice (CA). We’d been talking to him virtually for months, but had no idea who he was standing there. He announced he was from Digital Vegas.  We could never figure out how he got that Harley up to the third floor. But, I digress. The point is, no one was paying much attention except the other guys doing the same things. There was no regulation since no one but the government and educators even knew Arpanet was there. And certainly no one was trying to sell us stuff.

The Internet is inherently irreverent and anarchistic and therefore resists any attempt to wrangle or rope it in. It’s also a chance for people who would otherwise not meet to laugh and play and share trade secrets, whether the trade is Mommy-hood, bikers, hairdressers, dog lovers, cat lovers or just plain long-distance lovers.

The “C” or Connected generation, as Alex Tosolini, VP, Global e-Business at P&G, likes to call it, may or may not make way for today’s C-Suite Chief Data Scientist. When the advertiser insinuates himself into the conversation with waving banner ads and interstitials, the mob moves elsewhere. Social activity , the largest activity on the Web today, is, and I repeat, NOT media! Branding before this phenom was OUTside activity, now it’s INside. In effect, the herd will be heard whether marketers like it or not. It seems to have taken an entire decade and then some for marketers to realize this and having done so, loosen their grip. Like Double Click in the 1990’s with display, Tremor and other video networks and AdMob with mobile, companies like AppsSavvy, represented here, would like to help marketers brand around social activities and do it at scale.

“Everything That’s Static Will Become Dynamic.”

Wendy Clark SVP, Coca Cola Company

Wendy Clark, SVP - Integrated marketing Communications and Capabilities, Coca Cola

Words spoken by Wendy Clark, SVP-Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities at Coke.  Of those most likely to win the respect of the mob, is Coca Cola, the world’s largest beverage company. Which is why, Ms. Clark refers to Coke’s digital strategy as “liquid and linked”. And that’s not just lingo. It’s Coke’s take on brand storytelling

Ms. Clark rips up the stage in a blinged-out Coke T-shirt lauding the virtues of the hundreds of opportunities to join in and be a partner in “distributed creativity” on a “continuum of connections”.  Brands can no longer pay their way to greatness, she warned. Media isn’t categorized by the outlet you plug it into anymore, its either paid, earned, owned or shared, she said.  Coke has actually become the poster child for doing it right and the online world has chosen to anoint them with a following.

The key, of course, is not some play on words or metaphor for a marketing strategy. It is the living breathing fact that Coke has given up control in the traditional marketing sense and taken the lead from it’s lovable fan base deferring to their voice, and not imposing on them Coke’s decades old sales strategy.  Because of this, nearly 24.5 million people like Coke’s Facebook page, the largest page on the site. I guess when you serve 3 billion Coca Cola products worldwide every day, that doesn’t seem like such a big number. Yet, giving the ax to business-as-usual at a company this big, Ms. Clark had a lot to do when, in 2008, she moved over from AT&T. Coke didn’t start out with Digital DNA but, with Wendy Clark’s help, they sure did get IT along the way.

In 2008, UniLever discovered 50 representatives of the social online ecosystem (AKA Greenpeace) dressed as orangutans staging a protest outside their London Headquarters to highlight the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest. The protest forged a relationship between the two organizations with Unilever agreeing to address many of Greenpeace’s concerns. Unilever may not have started out life with Social Media DNA but they sure got religion fast.

Think Like a Start Up.   Act Like a Hacker.

The Net grew and prospered largely because it was ignored.
It worked by different rules than the rules of business.
Market penetration wasn’t interesting because there was no market —
unless it was a market for new ideas.
The Cluetrain Manifesto – Chapter One, Internet Apocolypso


Massive disruptive change is a marketers worst nightmare.  Just as Geoffrey Moore, head of the Chasm Group and author of Crossing The Chasm about technology adoption lifecycle, points out, “the marketer should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group.”  The gap between them IS the chasm for disruptive or discontinuous innovations which force a significant change of behavior by the customer. In layman’s terms, climbing on the shoulders of early adopters is where the smart money is.

FaceBook, like other successful marketing plans that came before it, envisioned a need and filled it. Like is important, but Share is more important. Adopting a start up strategy may not get you where it got Mark Zuckerberg, but it might get you out of the dark or worse, the Dark Ages. Build a virtual startup within your organization to imitate what it was like when everyone was bootstrapping and no one was watching. Teams of geniuses were liberated from the matrix and finding the next thing rather than protecting the old. The team not connected to the parent, innovates, iterates rapidly on its own and builds on user experience, skills, talent, not titles. Android, a Google offshoot, while in the search business, was simultaneouslyfree from the core and faithful to Google’s devices. Today, it’s the next BIG thing.

To Ride The Trend Wave-
Make it Low Cost
Launch and Learn
Take the Best Ideas From Everyone Else
Fast Is Better Than Perfect

VOCAB OF THE MODERN MARKETPLACE

Apple Generation, C-generation,
Social Online Ecosystem, Lean in, Honor the Community,
Passion Points, Connections Are The New Impressions,
Facilitate Commerce, Hardworking Media,
Networked Consumption, A Lense on Social Media,
Listenomics, Digital Skin, Digital Cocktailing,
Start Up Envy, Native (to a medium), Path to Purchase,
Continuum of Connections, Distributed Creativity


You’re Fired! By Text Message?


You're fired!

You're Fired! By Text?

Texting. The New Pink Slip?
Last week a friend of mine, let’s call her Sheila, had a small gig for a few days at a skin care salon. The business owner was looking desperately for someone to handle the phone and appointment book at the salon and Sheila was seeking full time employment.  It seemed like a marriage made in heaven.

Admittedly, front office work hasn’t been the focus of her career to date. Sheila, otherwise known as a “big idea” person, is heavy into strategy and business development. This salon job was a hyper-detail-multi-tasking balancing act a lot like the Chinese Jugglers on the Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1960’s. So, while the learning curve was fairly steep,  Sheila proceeded through the week thinking everyone wanted her to succeed after a long dry period of failure to find the “right person”. Ultimately, though, it didn’t work out and by the third day, Sheila would be asked to move along…for reasons we now refer to in the civilized world as “a bad fit”.  OK, well, these things happen.

Unfortunately, the surrounding details of this dismissal are the truly sad ones. As the story goes, at the end of the week, Sheila went to her boss, the business owner, and asked how the owner felt the few days went with Sheila at the front desk. She, herself, knew there were things to learn and some corrections to make. The boss confirmed that suspicion and added that these moments of uncertainty are part of a new job with a lot of moving parts. Seeking clarification, Sheila then asked the boss for specifics. Her job responsibilities, as first explained, were very different from what she was now told.  Leaving with this handful of helpful criticisms, Sheila expressed her appreciation for the feedback and promised to incorporate these changes from then on.

On her way home, Sheila suspected that there was more going on than may have been relayed by her boss. Her plans for the following week, made long before she knew she would be working from 10 to 7, Tuesday through Saturday, would have to be postponed or canceled. My friend was quick to text (the boss’s device of choice) her boss that this job was her most important priority.  She was prepared, she explained, to cancel these long-standing plans to show up as expected the following week.

What came back was a shock. “Don’t bother,” texted the boss. “I’ve already got someone to replace you.”

Sheila was dumbstruck. Sure, there were signs that adjustments were in order but “don’t come back,” was not what she expected. After all, isn’t it natural to take time to learn a new job? Even the boss, herself, proclaimed there was a lot to know and it all took time to learn. What was going on? Why? and Why by text message?

When I told this story to a  psychologist friend of mine, she explained the passive aggressive nature of the boss’s behavior. It turned out that money was missing from Sheila’s weekly check. When she caught it, the boss covered the omission telling Sheila that she hadn’t actually spent a full first day at the salon. Not true. Plus, Sheila’s salary was meant to be calculated weekly, not hourly. The way it was explained by my psychologist friend was that the boss was unsatisfied to a much greater extent than she was willing to say, so she shorted the paycheck instead.

Then, as the story goes, once the salon owner was asked for specifics, she simply dismissed Sheila. Apparently, something she couldn’t or wouldn’t do an hour earlier when Sheila was standing right in front of her.  Sheila was on borrowed time and would be replaced in a matter of days with someone new. True, she might have gotten a few more days pay out of the situation had Sheila said nothing, but that icky feeling everybody  knows something about you but YOU, isn’t conducive to a sense of comfort, let alone security, in any situation.

If You Are In A Similar Situation, What Can You do?
(1) Assume nothing and (2) preserve your integrity! The fact is that every boss is covering his or her own ass whether they are a business owner or not. We are all on probation and a need-to-know basis for at least two weeks (and sometimes even two months), unless the boss is your father, and even then…Regardless of the other person’s ineptness, you can still walk away knowing YOU did the next right thing. My psychologist friend advises that you want to leave every situation in a way that allows a future encounter to be civilized, at the very least. We never know when and how we may have to or want to see or speak to that person again. In a longer-term engagement that could end abruptly, we may still want a reference from the employer or business owner. We may have colleagues or friends in common who the story could get back to.

It’s important to be a lady or a gentleman no matter how off the hook bosses or anybody, for that matter, act. We, first and foremost, want to walk away from any situation with assurance that we handled it in the most civilized and courteous way. My psychologist friend suggested we go so far as to thank the boss for the time and energy he or she put into the test run. At first, this may sound outrageous but in life, lots of things seem ridiculous at first, but we’re glad we conducted ourselves with integrity when the new day dawns.

As for the text message element of this story, our human communications have, after all, been reduced to a tweet of 140 characters or less. Wedding announcements, births, deaths, divorces, child custody battles, TV show cancellations, even civil wars are now a matter of how many people are following you, not how honestly or well you handle yourself. So what do we expect when someone has bad news to deliver about a job? We are all hiding behind technology at this point. Either because we are multi-tasking and someone gets the short-shrift (remember the Seinfeld cell phone face off?) or we don’t feel like putting the time in to be cordial or politically correct. Or worst of all, we just don’t care anymore. What would The Donald say?

First in a Series: Q&A Leaders On Leadership 


Hank Fieger, President, HFA, Barcelona Spain

Hank Fieger, President of international management consulting, training and coaching firm, HFA, based in Barcelona, Spain, has worked with many Fortune 100 companies in over 20 countries. His expertise is in Behavioral Executive Coaching, Team Building, Executive Presentation Skills and Leadership Communication Skills. Using a model of open and honest communication, Hank combines his knowledge of business and psychology to help others embody “people management” skills in leadership roles. Hank’s first book, “Behavior Change…A View From The Inside Out”, a handbook on the art of change, is available on Amazon.

Q&A (unedited) On Leadership

If you had to name three characteristics of great leaders what would they be?

They have a clear vision for what’s possible.

They have the ability to communicate that vision to the hearts and minds of their followers.

They are in tune with what people are wanting.

As organizations get larger there’s often a tendency toward dampening inspiration. How do you encourage creative thinking within your or your clients’ organizations?

I encourage creative thinking by reconnecting people to their core values? By understanding what is most important to them, they begin to see what’s possible.

In order of importance or weight, what do you feel is most important: mission, vision or core values?

I think core values are most important, followed by a vision. The mission is the working statement that captures the values and the vision.

How do leaders ensure their organizations activities are aligned with their own core values?

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

What is corporate culture and how is it crafted?

Corporate culture is the unspoken, and sometimes spoken rules about how things are done here. It’s crafted usually from the key individuals at the top of the corporation.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

I think that every true leader has a bit of a revolutionary in them. Most people resist change, and yet what leaders need to do is to help people and organizations to change and adapt to what is needed in order to be sustainable.

What is one mistake you see leaders making more frequently than others?  In your opinion, is it different for women leaders?

The one mistake I see is that leaders sometimes make decisions that they think will keep them in the role and keep them having power. I think that women leaders also fall into this trap and sometimes to prove themselves in a “man’s game,” they may even try harder. They also revert back to managing the transactional day to day business, rather than staying focused on the big picture.

What advice would you give someone going into leadership position for the first time?

Is your advice different if that person is a woman?

Be true to yourself and to your values. It’s a privilege to be in a leadership role, so go for it. My advice for a woman is no different. Don’t give your true power away in the attempt to be more like a man, or to succeed in what you may believe to be a man’s world.

What is one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

To sell out to what they believe people want from them, rather than being true to what is really needed.

How To Get A Raise In A Recession. Moneywatch.com


I’m posting this article from Moneywatch.com hoping it will inspire someone to stand up for herself even during the dark times. EMP

HOW TO GET A RAISE IN A RECESSION

Moneywatch.com
In a recent episode of Mad Men, junior copywriter Peggy Olson confronts what may be a familiarly frustrating situation-trying to get a raise when times are tough. She points out that she’s underpaid compared with her male peers and argues that she needs more money because she’s just moved into the city, but to no avail. “It’s not going to happen,” her boss says coldly, noting he’s fighting for paper clips from the agency’s penny-pinching new bosses. Peggy leaves the office dejected.

In times like these, raises are tough to come by. But there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of leaving your boss’s office happier than Peggy did. While base salary increases at U.S. companies were at their lowest levels in more than 30 years in 2009, variable pay — bonuses, profit sharing, and other kinds of nonrecurring compensation — is currently at an all-time high at about 12 percent of payroll as managers do what they can to reward their top people or risk losing them. Here’s how to make your strongest possible case for a bigger paycheck.

Do Your Research
Even if you believe your work ethic and results are the stuff of office legend, you’ll have to remind your boss of everything you’ve accomplished over the previous year. Pull together a presentation or portfolio that showcases the quantifiable results of your work. Remember: Management cares about results — either how much money you saved or made the company — not things like how many hours you spent on a project, says Ford R. Myers, president of Career Potential in Haverford, Pa., and author of Get the Job You Want Even When No One’s Hiring. Keep track of every instance where you’ve contributed to the company’s bottom line. “Let’s say you were in charge of the company’s sales conference in Las Vegas,” says Myers. “Did you negotiate better rates on the hotel and airfare? Or perhaps you got a better contract on services or supplies the company uses.”

Arm yourself with current market data on the salary range for your position at comparably sized companies in your industry. Sites like Payscale.com, Salary.com, and Glassdoor.com are good places to start; for further advice on how to benchmark your salary, see this MoneyWatch story. Your goal is to get to the top of your position’s salary range, or get a promotion, says Ramit Sethi, author of the book and blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

When Tamara, 28, an accounts manager at a marketing firm who requested her last name not be used, asked for a raise in May, she brought a list of all the additional responsibilities she had taken on during the year and the new clients she had brought to the firm. She had accepted about $5,000 less than she wanted when she was hired in April, and at her six-month review, was told the firm didn’t have the budget to give her a raise. But when her annual review rolled around, she managed to get the raise, taking her up to the salary she had wanted. “I think I impressed them by talking about what I had accomplished, and they were afraid if they didn’t give me what I wanted this time, I would start looking elsewhere,” Tamara says.

Hot Tip
Get the Skinny on Your Company
Your boss may say the company can’t afford to give raises right now, but don’t take his word for it. Check out the financial health of your firm before asking, and gently incorporate that information into the reasons why you should get a raise. For example: “I understand the company’s need to be prudent with expenditures, but we had excellent first and second quarter sales.”

Of course, since you’re probably spending 50 hours a week in the office, you have a fairly good idea how business is. But a few resources can help you compile the numbers. For public companies, look at the most recent financial reports, especially profit margins, income statements, and cash flow, since these are good indicators of a company’s health, says Pete Bible, a CPA and head of the public companies group at Amper, Politziner & Mattia. Analysts also publish their views of public companies and those with public debt are reviewed and rated by Moody’s. For privately held companies, consult the Web sites of Hoover’s or its parent company, Dun & Bradstreet. Keep in mind, though, that much of the information there is likely to be self-reported, and so it may paint a rosier picture than reality, says Seth Ellis, CEO of RWE Private Wealth in Orlando, Fla.

Apart from these sources, you also probably have access to a lot more financial information than you realize, Ellis says, depending on your position in the company. Senior managers see profitability reports, sales reps get quarterly sales reports, manufacturing staff deal with costs and expenses, and purchasing staff have information on how much inventory the company is buying and how much is being sold. You can also sift through trade publications for information on how your company’s industry is faring overall.

Tell Your Boss What She Wants to Hear
Demanding a raise at a time when your boss could probably find 10 unemployed MBAs willing to do your job isn’t a particularly smart way to negotiate, says Jeanette Nyden, a business attorney in Seattle and author of Negotiation Rules! A Practical Approach to Big Deal Negotiations. Instead, approach her with a softer line that acknowledges whatever economic pressure the company might be under and that emphasizes you’re a team player. So you might say something like: “In light of the fact that I’m taking on new responsibilities for the company, I would like you to consider raising my compensation,” rather than “If I have to do two jobs, I expect to get paid for it.”

And while it might seem like you don’t have much negotiating power without another job offer in hand, you probably have more leverage than you think, says Carol Frohlinger, principal at consulting firm Negotiating Women. If you’ve picked up the work of colleagues who have been laid off, that makes you more valuable to the company. And if there’s a hiring freeze in place, so much the better — managers who are unable to replace departing employees will want you to stay, and more specifically, to stay in their department.

Managers also tend to look at the big picture when deciding whether it’s worth it to go to bat for someone asking for a raise. Todd M. Schoenberger, managing director of investment management firm LandColt Trading in San Antonio, Texas, said he looks not only to how much employees earn for a firm, but how much they cost the firm and what their upside is. Do they spend a lot on corporate trips? Are they a nuisance in the office? And can they accept new responsibilities if they get a bump in pay? “[This last question] is the most critical because employees have to sell themselves if they want more money, and the best way to do that is to ask — almost beg — for new roles and responsibilities,” says Schoenberger. “Simply asking for more money because you want more money isn’t going to cut it.”

Kristi Casey Sanders, co-owner and editorial director of Atlanta Metropolitan Publishing in Atlanta, Ga., echoes Schoenberger’s comments. “As a senior manager, I need people who bring solutions, not create problems,” she says, adding that the employees she’s going to work to keep are those who show initiative. “If they don’t have all the information they need, they figure it out. If they have some spare time, they pitch in and help someone else.”

Think About the Bigger Picture and Negotiate for the Long Term
It may be that even a mountain of evidence showing you deserve a raise won’t get you one, because it’s simply impossible this year. But that’s not your cue to give up. Instead, ask if the company would be willing to consider compensating you in other ways such as paying for added training, giving you more vacation, or allowing you to work more flexible hours.

Penelope Truck, founder of the blog Brazen Careerist, which provides career advice to young professionals, says that the meager raises people might be able to get nowadays probably aren’t worth as much as good opportunities to learn new skills. “Ask to get into a mentoring program, for special training, to be part of a special project you normally wouldn’t be involved with — all these will enhance your skill set and make you eligible for a change in the type of job you do, which would be worth more in the long run,” she says. “Most people don’t increase their worth in the company without changing their job and getting a promotion.”

And don’t give up on trying to get that raise. Get your boss to agree to revisit the issue of your compensation in six months, and set a date for the follow-up meeting. Agree on some specific goals you will achieve in that period, such as a certain percentage increase in sales, or number of projects that will be completed. Then, reiterate everything discussed in a formal email sent to your manager, so that both of your expectations are clear: he wants certain targets met; you want a raise in six months. Keep track of what you’re accomplishing in that period, and email your boss (and copy whomever else is responsible for compensation decisions) monthly updates on the status of your work. “It will show that you are willing to stick with the company and continue to work hard, even through bad times,” says Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and career counselor in Manhattan. “And that will give your manager confidence in you.”