At work, if you follow the rules you just get to play. Winning is an entirely different story.

Corporate jobs are reassuring. They have clear rules like “respect hierarchy” and “if you want to discuss something important with your boss set up a meeting and send an invite.”

A lot of people I know follow these rules. Yet, they tell me they don’t feel like they’re winning. They are frustrated. They feel like they aren’t taking any steps forward in their career. They say they are underpaid. That’s not what you’d expect if you read mainstream career advice.  Main stream rules often suggest that following the rules gives you a shot at success.

Let’s be clear. If you follow the rules you just get to play. Winning is an entirely different story.

Being great at your job alone will NOT bring you more money

A friend I haven’t heard from in a while called me a few days ago. She complained about her job and how little it pays. Then she told me she is going to ask for a raise at her next performance review meeting.

I said: “Why do you think you deserve one?”

“Well, I achieved all last year’s objectives brilliantly and I haven’t got a raise in 2 years,” she said.

“That’s just why they pay you. But why should they pay you more?”

I find in the workplace there is quite a lot of misunderstandings. Doing your job well is what you’re paid for. You don’t deserve a raise or a promotion for that.

You deserve a raise for something that sets you apart from the others. And I’m afraid you’re not going to find that within the limits of your current role. Connect the dots outside your current role. Find something new. Involve somebody new.

Here’s what I do. I pretend I have two jobs. The first is the one I was hired for. Even though I perform well, it doesn’t count for a raise. Then I have a second one. In this job I talk to people who do not work directly with me. I see what they need, how I can help them achieving their goals and how they can help me achieving mine (or better, my manager’s). Then I come up with ideas that connect the dots and pitch them to my boss and any other person involved. That is my shot at success.

To give you an example, these days I’m trying a bunch of different marketing activities for my own blog. As soon as I find something that works great, I’ll start thinking how I can apply that to our marketing strategy at work. Maybe I’ll suggest the two best social media channels to reach our customers and what to do to set them up. This is when I connect the dots outside my job role. Once I believe the idea I have in mind is going to work, I’ll pitch it to all the marketing guys. That’s what’s going to set me apart from the others.

Initiate the change

Initiate. That is the one word you guys looking for a raise (or even a promotion) should always bear in mind. Because of the hierarchical way in which big companies are structured, they rarely see real initiative. Generally the work is very compartmentalized and not many go out of their way to make new things happen without precise instructions to do so. Those who do, catch people’s attention.

There are dozens of ways you can show initiative. Here is how you can start right now:

  • Ask to have a cup of coffee with people who don’t work with you directly. Don’t ask for a meeting, people tend to take meetings more seriously and they show up with notebooks and laptops. This is an exploratory cup of coffee for general understanding. Meet people at different levels of the organization
  • Explain what you do. Ask them about their objectives for the year. Understand whether you can help them achieving those
  • Repeat with others
  • See which partnership would be more beneficial to your manager
  • Sell the idea to him/her

Take responsibility

Initiating something new requires you to take on responsibility. The corporate world is weird in this sense. You hear the word “responsibility” 50 times a day. People often think about responsibility in terms of the success of a certain project falling on you because somebody gave you power for making things happen. But if you think about it, that is not responsibility. That is authority. Someone gave you authority to make things happen.

If you want responsibility, you move first and ask for it. You say: “I have this idea that is going to benefit the whole business unit. I can make this happen today.” If you want a raise, show responsibility. Forget the authority for now. Once responsibility has been embraced, you will be free to ask for authority.

Think of your last year at work. What did you initiate? How did you sell your idea to your managers?

Alex Dogliotti is a corporate trainer and coach who has lots of fun helping people think like an entrepreneur. He blogs at Stuckaholic.


  1. Carol | Club Flyers

    Very well said. All the points mentioned on this post inspired me as an employer. I also want to have a raise and to be promoted. Yes, you are right, we should do something that will make us excel, something beyond what we are asked to do. I hope my efforts are seen. Thanks Alex!

  2. Alex Dogliotti

    Thank you Carol! The way I see it is, at some point you have to choose. Are you going to be a remarkable person or just another good (enter here your job title)? Remarkable people are those who broke free of the labels attached to their roles and initiate something new.

  3. Dav6421

    I must say that in my country things are a lont different than your country, people here don’t get raise or promotion unless they are close friends with the bosses or relatives, this is what life gave us and we should play by the rules if we want to keep our job.

  4. Anonymous

    Great points! I agree — to get a truly exceptional raise, you have to do something truly exceptional. I do think, however, that companies also need to take inflation and cost of living into account then they consider raises. How do you see that fitting into the equation?

    • Alex Dogliotti

      Hey Noel, how are you? Companies will take into account a lot of stuff before giving you a raise. Ultimately it will come down to this: how indispensable are you? If there are many like you, you’re just a cog. Cogs can be replaced and are cheap. Cogs and raises don’t usually go together. Yes, companies may have HR policies to structure raises, but it’s not about the amount. It’s about being unique. Uniqueness translates into money.

  5. Mango Money

    Thanks for a great post, Alex. Too often people think that they should be rewarded just for doing their job, or even doing their job well. We should always do our jobs, whether it is at work, at home, or even at play, to the best of our ability. That’s what makes it a challenge! Makes it fun! PS- Dav, I am wondering what country you live in? How is the salary determined in the first place, and is there room to negotiate then?

  6. Steff @ ex back

    Hi Alex,

    I am so glad I click to read this article from the archive. You have addressed a very important matter that is the heart of conversation among my girlfriends and I for a long long time. It is NATURAL to be expected to be noticed and rewarded for doing a good job, so it’s no wonder we’re always complaining. We knew that doing a good job wasn’t enough. We thought it was the networking anf people skills that we’re lacking, but hey, you have just pointed out a very valid point. It IS people skills, but at a very actionable angle. Thanks for the article. Oh and I enjoy Stuckaholic a lot too.

  7. Austriliana

    I am totally agreed with you.
    “…Think of your last year at work. What did you initiate? How did you sell your idea to your managers?…”
    I will dedicate those questions to all who ask for a raise without a reason behind. I am also asking that question to myself in order to have my own personal appraisal.
    Thanks for inspired me.

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