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podcast: becoming a negotiation ninja with Denise Lloyd

Whether you’re on the employee or employer side, job negotiations are something that gives everyone butterflies. In this episode, Denise Lloyd, CEO and founder of Engaged HR, teaches us that employee compensation is ultimately about creating an environment where your employees can thrive. Learn how to create this environment and how to have these conversations from both perspectives - making your work and mission have a bigger impact.

let’s talk about negotiation

When an employee is about to accept a job, this is the moment where they have the best opportunity to see what the employer can offer and negotiate what works best for them. However, current staff can also negotiate at any point in their time of employment.

Before you hire employees, it’s important to ensure that your organization is a place where employees are set up for success. While employers should always update their pay structures to stay competitive within the industry, they should also consider other options that make for a better work environment.

Employers have the opportunity in the hiring process to talk about all the things they can offer as a way to attract candidates that are a good fit for them - bringing the right skills and enthusiasm for the organization. The earlier these conversations happen, the more likely you’ll be able to attract and retain better talent.

creating a better work environment for employees

As a society, we’re changing and the desire for work-life balance is increasing - something that employers need to consider when trying to attract new candidates and keep current staff. Non-financial benefits or non-cash compensation in today’s workforce can include the actual work environment, such as the ability to work remotely from home, or flexibility with the days or hours worked. You may even negotiate or promote health and wellness benefits or flex-day programs where employees can take a day off to volunteer for their cause of choice.

It’s important to ensure that employees are clear about what you can offer them - not just how much they’re being paid. Be sure to also talk about how they can take advantage of any programs or opportunities for professional development - another key consideration for both new and current employees. Try posting salary ranges in job postings to set expectations and to save everyone’s time - you don’t want to find a great candidate only to have them decline due to financial compensation and vice-versa. Before you post your salary ranges, ensure that your current staff is aware of the range to avoid any internal challenges. If you don’t want to post them publicly, bring them up early in the hiring process to make sure everyone is on the right page.

Denise recommends researching the market to see how much other competitors are offering their employees and what other benefits they are generally receiving. She recommends looking at the Salary Survey by CharityVillage and PayScale. This is a great way for both employers and employees to ensure that the organization is competitive and to provide a rationale for both parties in the negotiation.

preparing for negotiations

Denise also recommends including all of this information in an employee handbook, if you haven’t or to create one if you don’t have one yet. That way, everyone has access to the same information and has a baseline to work from for negotiations. Always make sure to update the handbook as needed, and that all employees have access to it and are aware of any changes.

Even if you’ve had a conversation, it’s important to have everything discussed in writing to avoid any misunderstandings. This ensures that everyone has heard everything correctly and are both on the same page. As a new or current employee, it’s helpful to ask for a copy of the employee handbook or policy manual. From this document, you get a real sense of the organization’s culture and what are the general rules around things like vacation and sick days.

having the big conversation

While many job offers are given through email or by phone, your best bet is to negotiate in person if you have a relationship with them. If you’re a new or potential employee, this conversation is less intimidating over the phone.

After you’ve reviewed the employee handbook, you can discuss what you’re really excited about and what you currently like about the job. Start with “I’m really attracted to these aspects of your job offer and I would like to talk about a couple of other things that also interest me.” This way, you reaffirm the aspects that both parties agree upon but open up the conversation to negotiating for other things you’d like.

After you’ve had this conversation, allow your employer time to think about it and get back to you. It is completely reasonable for an employer to say “I need to see how this would fit with the equity inside the organization. Let me get back to you tomorrow.” The last thing you want to do is put pressure on someone you’re asking something from, so give them breathing room to see what they can do for you. In the event that they say no, it’s important to say “I understand, thank you for considering this.”

Negotiating is an opportunity for both the employer and employee to understand what’s important to the organization, those who work for it and what kind of relationship exists between the two parties.

asking for a raise

Whether it’s a salary raise, a change in vacation or schedule, it’s important to do your research on what the market is currently offering. If you haven’t seen a raise in three or five years, think about what added value you bring to the organization that wasn’t necessarily something that was expected from you when you started or from your last raise. Think about what new skills you’ve added and needs to be compensated, or if you’ve been accredited in any special training that adds value to the organization. Maybe you’ve completed a big project that has attracted more clients - have this information ready as you put together a case.

Denise also suggests looking into pay cycles - if you wait until two months after the Request For Proposal was submitted, it will be too late, especially since the wages in it was probably written four months ago. Pay attention to your timing before asking for a meeting.

While this kind of information would typically be discussed during a performance review, it’s common for nonprofit organizations not to have a formal one due to its busy nature. It’s important as an employee to put together a case and request to have this conversation. You can do this by saying “I’ve done some research and I’ve put together some materials for us to review together and discuss how I’m compensated.”

This isn’t a threat of any kind where you’re giving your manager an ultimatum and you’ll quit if it’s not met - Denise warns that this won’t help you. Instead, she suggests coming from a place where you’re recognizing that there isn’t a natural place to bring this up. In the event that your employer can’t fulfill your request, this is still a great way to plant the seed for a future discussion down the road - this doesn’t have to be a one-time conversation!

asking for a promotion

Similar to asking for a raise, it’s important to get the timing right, do your research and create a case for why you deserve a promotion. Make note of any specialized education, new skills, and some goals you’d like to achieve with a professional development opportunity. Organizations typically have the ability to pay for training especially if it feeds back into the delivery to clients and generating better salaries for staff. By doing this, you also keep yourself employable and current with the new demands of the industry.

Working in a small non-profit, many know that you work here because you’re passionate and not necessarily for the pay. But negotiating for things that promote a better work-life balance such as flexibility to care for your kids or having the ability to have a side hustle can be the difference from your average 9-5 job and a career where you can thrive. For employers, creating this environment can be the difference between a high employee turnover rate and happy, consistent employees that feel well compensated.

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You may also find it helpful to review our episode about salary ranges and transparency with Vu Le

The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano