In a Big Company, in my limited experience, I do think you need to be thoughtful here. There are rules.  You can threaten to leave once and often get a raise to stay.  But only once.  And in a BigCo, it’s really hard to get a raise “out of band”, i.e other than during annual reviews.

But what about start-ups?  They’re supposed to be more merit-based, and more flexible.  And oftentimes, they are, especially when they are smaller.  If you’ve truly done a good job — if your boss and everyone agrees — then:

  1. If you are underpaid, just politely bring it up. Share you feel this way, directly but without drama. You may or may not get a raise, but in my experience, if you are truly a top performer, it’s fine to bring up if you feel underpaid. The reality is, Big Companies have better processes around comp and comp bands. This doesn’t make their comp more fair, but it does mean it gets more scrutiny. The best founders want to know if they’ve inadvertently underpaid their top performers. It happens. They often don’t really know.
  2. If you think you deserve a promotion, just politely ask what it would take. Maybe don’t make anyone feel blackmailed, but ask the question. I’d love to get promoted here. What would it take?
  3. But … if you haven’t really crushed … it, maybe go crush it first. In a startup, folks that ask for a raise than have underperformed … tend to just highlight that they’ve underperformed.

But here’s the thing — startups are often even worse than BigCos in giving feedback.  Not sure how well you are doing?  Ask.  Just ask, even if you have to push.  If you don’t hear strong support back, you likely aren’t a top performer.  At least, for now.

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