I Never Asked

Oct 15, 1993

Throughout my working career, I never asked for a raise. I never asked for a bigger bonus. I figured if my employers weren’t smart enough to pay me what I was worth, I’d go somewhere else. I never asked for time off beyond my accumulated vacation. I never asked to take off early on a Friday to have a long weekend. I never asked for an advance on my pay or a loan from the company. Why should I get special privileges that no one else got? I never asked for a bigger office or a nicer company car. I never asked for new office furniture, a cellular phone, or a laptop computer. I never asked for a promotion or a more impressive sounding title. I never asked to take my wife along on a business trip at the company’s expense. I never asked to go to a seminar or conference when I knew the budget was tight. What did I ask for? I asked for the opportunity to prove myself in some jobs that were probably over my head at the time. I asked for my performance to be measured so I could show management how well I was doing. I asked what would be expected of me to move ahead in the company. I asked if there was anything else I could do to help out when times were tough. I asked for the chance to invest my money in the company’s stock. What’s the point of my story? Employees who ask for everything should realize that they are not endearing themselves to management. They just causing problems for management to deal with. These people are not making the boss’s life easier— they are making it more difficult. And if the boss is a rational manager, he or she will want to give out his or her precious, limited rewards to those individuals who make life easier, not those who make it harder. As we enter an increasingly competitive era in the A/E and environmental consulting business, getting people who ask for the right things and don’t ask for the wrong things is, without a doubt, critical to any firm that wants to be successful and grow. It’s not easy to do, but here are my suggestions: Single out those who always put their own needs above the company’s and make it clear you aren’t happy about it. I’m not talking about legitimate requests, like wanting a day off to attend the funeral of a loved one. I mean the people who take advantage of a boss’s reluctance to be a “bad guy.” They know it’s usually easier for the boss to let things slide. What they don’t consider is that the effect of asking for something extra goes beyond what they’re asking for. First, it forces the boss to spend part of his or her time and energy making a decision about the employee’s request. Then, if it’s a day off the employee wants, the boss may need to assign someone else to fill in. In addition, the boss has to worry about how other employees will react— will everybody expect something extra now? Get rid of comp time policies. This business is not a 40 hour per week business, and no matter what people like Faith Popcorn say (in The Popcorn Report, a publication about changing lifestyles that has “popped up” in the media recently), it never will be. It is a 50+ hour per week business. Those people who want to work only 40 hours per week should get into another line of work that is less demanding. Don’t grant the requests of those who ask. This is really tough, especially if you, as a manager, have not been doing your job and doling out the rewards equitably. But the fact is that when you start responding to these requests and caving in, you’re actually telling your people that the way to get ahead is by complaining, and that’s the last thing a manager should be reinforcing. Adopt a new company motto: “Ask not what your company can do for you; ask what you can do for your company.” Encourage the thinking that performance comes first, and rewards and special privileges come afterward. Discourage those who think they are entitled to special privileges because of their position in the hierarchy. Originally published 10/15/1993

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