THE QUESTION: I’m a Corporate Counsel and have been asked to serve as acting VP of HR as well for 6-8 months. Compensation for a VP is higher so how should I approach compensation for this offer?
Congratulations on the opportunity to assume this executive role in your company! Even though it is on a temporary basis, you should pat yourself on the back for this recognition as it demonstrates executive confidence in your competence and abilities.
Regarding the compensation, the first thing you need to know is that the company is not going to permanently raise your compensation to a VP level. There is a big disparity between a Corporate Counsel and VP level and you are only assuming the role for a short, finite period of time. So manage your expectations about what’s realistic in your situation. With this said, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be paid more, but you will need to ask. Whether you are will depend on your approach. So what’s the plan? The steps below will help you create one maximizes your ability to increase your pay.
Before you speak with the higher-ups, you’ll need your bearings about compensation for VPs in the company. If a prior VP of HR existed, what did s/he make? If you are the first to assume the role, learn the compensation ranges for other VPs in your company. This will give you a good sense of where you are and where the VP level is targeted. In addition, do some benchmarking about what a contract HR exec would make – and how much this alternative would cost the company.
Know Your Leverage.
When heading into a compensation negotiation, you must understand the dynamic in front of you and know how much leverage you possess. This will help guide your approach, your Ask and your narrative. So what is yours? Let’s take a look: the company needs someone to fill a temporary leadership gap in the HR organization while they determine their plan to hire a permanent executive for the function. Hiring a contract HR exec is very expensive and contains risk if s/he is not already known or proven to the company. The ideal situation for the company is to have an existing employee…someone whom they trust, and who knows the company and culture – a known commodity – assume the role. It will also be a cheaper option. So the fact that you check all of these boxes gives you leverage in this situation. Knowing this is important because increases the likelihood of getting what you want if your Ask is reasonable and approached professionally.
Know Your Number.
Going into your compensation conversation, be clear on exactly what you want and why (I’ll address the “why” later). Do not leave it to the executives to determine what they think is fair – their number will almost certainly be lower than yours. So take the information you have learned about VP compensation and pinpoint what you want and when/how you’d like it to be paid (Next paycheck? End of year bonus? Monthly?). In addition, your number should not be pulled out of thin air, but must have solid reasoning behind it. If you’re not sure how to calculate or want a sounding board, ask a colleague, mentor, recruiter or friend for their input.
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
You’re going to be nervous going into this discussion so the better prepared you are, the more effectively you’ll present your case. I’m a big fan of writing down narratives to organize thoughts and to ensure that all material points are being covered. So I highly recommend this for you as well. Write down what you want and the points to support your request. Then create your dialogue on paper. Read it out loud and edit as you speak. Practice until it becomes natural and by the time you have your conversation, you’ll be ready to go.
Make Your Ask.
You’ve done your homework. You know your leverage. You know your number…and you are prepared. Now all you have to do is ask for what you want. This is where professionals get flustered; they ramble and lose their focus – and compromise their position. Take a deep breath and remind to yourself that you are simply reiterating the added value you will be providing to the company and believe that it’s fair to be recognized for it. As you shift into gear, remember your narrative and speak calmly and with conviction. After you are finished saying what you want to say, stop. Below is an example to serve as a starting point for your own point of view:
“Robert, first I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to serve as interim VP of HR. I appreciate the vote of confidence and am really looking forward to leading the group. During this time, I’ll be assuming two roles with one being at a substantially higher level so I wanted to discuss the compensation that will reflect the added responsibilities. I’d like to propose a bonus payout equal to $5,000/month for each month that I’m responsible for the two roles. This number is the delta between my current monthly pay and somewhat below the lowest end of the range for a VP. I think the bonus approach is the right one and the number proposed is fair because it recognizes my responsibility for two functions during the time I am performing them and avoids the need to hire an unknown, more expensive outsourced/contract HR executive.” SILENCE.
Asking for more of anything from an employer is a tough task for most lawyers. But if you want to advance your career, you’ll need to get more comfortable doing it. Having a methodical approach will mitigate the fear and increase the likelihood of success. You won’t always get for what you first ask…and you may not here. But you’ll open the door to give yourself the very best shot at getting what you need.