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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

February 28, 2017

I’m a senior in house counsel and have been asked to take over as acting VP of HR for 6-8 months. VPs are paid more in my company so how should I approach compensation for this offer?

Julie Q. Brush

Getting paid more money for tackling an additional title and more responsibility seems like a no-brainer, right? Wrong. In fact, when lawyers are asked to assume “more” for a limited period of time it’s common for comp to remain at status quo. Why is this? In large part, it’s because lawyers don’t ask for more money. Some fear they’ll be perceived negatively: not a team player, greedy, cocky and/or ungrateful. Others don’t make a persuasive enough case and cave without much pushback. Given this reality, executives aren’t necessarily expecting to pay more and few would offer it up from the start. So your request will need to be carefully prepared to maximize your chances of achieving your goal.

Here’s what you need to know:

You Have Leverage.

Company executives are enlisting your leadership to navigate the HR ship. And by doing so, you will undoubtedly benefit the company in many ways, shapes or forms. You’re also a safe bet. You’re a known commodity in the organization – and the executives are familiar with your work and trust you enough to offer you this important role. Bringing in someone new…even an outsourced, temp/project HR exec carries with it a multitude of risks substantively and culturally – not to mention a healthy price tag. So your “plug and play” status is worth its weight in gold. All of this means that you have leverage. Why is leverage important? Because leverage places you in a better position to get what you want. The executives have likely concluded that they not only want you in the role, they need you in the role. And at the end of the day, they will acquiesce (within reason) to meet your ask if it means they can get what they want too. Knowing this should give you more confidence in your compensation discussion.

Do Your Homework.

“VPs are paid more in my company”. But do you know how much more? What are the compensation ranges for this level (base salary, bonus target and stock)? How to they compare and contrast with your current compensation? To be most effective, your request will need to be clear, concise and present specific numbers. The numbers must also be reasonable and based on the internal compensation metrics for your company. So before any discussion is to be had, do your homework and gather the data you need.

Pinpoint Your Options.

Once you have your VP compensation data, you can pinpoint what options are available to you. A few reasonable options could include one or more of the following:

  • Permanent base salary increase
  • Temporary base salary increase
  • More stock
  • Title elevation
  • End of year guaranteed bonus of $__________ (be specific)
  • Option to assume the VP of HR responsibility permanently after the 6-8 month period expires.

Determine Specifically What You Want.

This is no time to be vague or let your employer determine your value. Identify what you want specifically and what you’ll be willing to accept (specific numbers, title etc.). Perhaps it’s an end of year guaranteed bonus, perhaps it’s a base compensation increase, perhaps it’s more stock – perhaps it’s all three and more. It’s challenging for me to advise you on what to ask for because I don’t know what’s most important to you at this snapshot in time. But from a pure career perspective, you’ll get the biggest medium and long-term lift from a permanent title and base compensation increase.

Create Your “Argument”.

You know what you want; now you need to identify the rationale for your request(s). Why do you deserve an increased compensation package? Why is your Ask reasonable and fair? The answers to these questions will be part of your approach when you speak with your executives about your offer.

Prepare and Practice.

I’m sure I sound like a broken record by now to The Lawyer Whisperer readers, but I’m going to keep stressing the point because it’s that important: If you want to achieve what you want, you must prepare what you are going to say and how you are going to say it…and practice until you can say it in your sleep. Being prepared gives you confidence. Being prepared quells your anxiety. Being prepared broadcasts conviction. And being prepared greatly increases the odds that you’ll get what you’ve asked for. So……………now that you (1) know why you have leverage; (2) have done your homework; (3) pinpointed your options; (4) determined exactly what you want; and (5) can articulate the arguments for what you want…………… script your compensation conversation with company executives. Word for word. Then, read through your script out loud as though you were in your conversation and edit accordingly. As you work through this exercise, you will notice that your original messaging will become much more concise and conversational. Practice until perfect.

The Right Delivery Is Key.

Words are important, but so are tone, timing, knowing when to be quiet, eye contact and facial/body expressions. These factors are all part of “the delivery” and if you want to get what you want, the right delivery is key. So for your conversation, keep the following in mind: be appreciative and gracious, express thanks, be concise and firm in how you are presenting yourself and your words, keep good eye contact and maintain a relaxed and positive face and body. Finally, after you’ve made your ask and made your case…stop talking.

Two Examples.

It’s not easy to create a compelling narrative when asking for “more”. So below are two examples to serve as a guide as you head into the home stretch.

  • “Carol, thank you for the opportunity to assume the VP of HR role in addition to my current position. I appreciate the recognition and believe that my skillset and deep knowledge of the company would add a lot of value to the department as its Lead. The responsibilities are quite substantial as it will require the time and work product of two professionals. So I wanted to discuss the compensation during this period of time. I don’t want to be an outlier in the organization so after learning more about the compensation ranges for VPs in the company, I’d like to propose a base salary of $_______________ and a VP title. If things worked out, I’d also love to be considered permanently for the position. Given the scope of the duel roles and the expertise I bring to both, I believe this is a fair proposal and hope you do as well.” [Silence]
  • “Chris, I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve as acting VP of HR. I appreciate the offer and recognition of my value to the organization. As I’m sure you appreciate, assuming responsibilities for both positions is a big undertaking – particularly at a VP level. So it’s going to require a lot more time and dedication to perform both functions well. I’m excited for the challenge, but in order for it to make sense for the company and for me, the compensation will need to reflect the increased responsibilities. I’ve given some thought to what would be fair and based on the company’s internal compensation metrics, I believe a VP title and salary of $_____________ during the “acting” period as well as an addional stock grant of _______ RSUs is reasonable – and less than what you’d have to pay for a temp or permanent VP of HR for this duration. I’m also a proven professional in the company so my appointment is less risky. Let me know if this proposal will work for you.” [Silence]

You’ve been offered the opportunity to take on more responsibility as the acting VP of HR. This recognition deserves a pat on the back so congratulate yourself for a job well done. But oftentimes, the privilege of more responsibility alone isn’t enough to reflect the full value a professional will provide when assuming more work. An increase in compensation is also required. And in your case, a bump is wholly appropriate for what you are about to undertake. I suspect your employer won’t be quick to offer it up, so you’ll need a well-executed Ask to get want you want and need. As you plan your approach use the guide above for assistance and tweak as needed to suit your situation. You may get everything you want, you may get less. But one thing’s for certain, you won’t get a nickel…unless you ask.

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