Get Into a Better Position to Earn More Generous Work Rewards

Look out for tough assignments and roles that are hard to fill. This is your big chance to prove yourself and build up a significant positive balance in your management relationship account.

If you want to get into a better position to earn more generous rewards at work, where do you begin?

Step 1: Make sure that in your working relationship with each boss, you understand not only how to meet the basic expectations of the job, but how to go above and beyond those expectations—and what rewards might be available if you do.

Step 2: Through open communication and transparency, build a working relationship of trust and confidence with your boss, so you know exactly what you have to do to earn rewards, no matter how great or small those rewards might be. Help your boss monitor, measure, and document your performance every step of the way. If you make a commitment, deliver on that commitment. If you fail to meet a commitment, be honest and forthright about it. Put your boss in a position to let you know whether your work is hitting the target on an ongoing basis.

Don’t be a big baby when it comes to acknowledging the fact that you may not have achieved the necessary goal to earn a particular reward. Likewise, don’t be too greedy when you do achieve the goal and it comes to collecting promised rewards. If your boss can’t deliver on a reward right away, or if a promised reward somehow evaporates, try to be understanding. Write off the loss as a cost of doing business, an investment in the bank account of that working relationship. At least you won’t have to spend time wondering if your performance has been noted and appreciated. Use the appreciation to gather momentum.

By the way, if your boss can’t reward you right away, but seems to appreciate what you’ve done, consider asking him to write a letter describing your success, give you a copy, place a copy in your employee file, and maybe pass a copy up the line to his boss. That’s a good way to help your boss make you feel rewarded rather than jilted in the event a hoped-for reward falls through.

Keep in mind that your boss may not realize how much power she has to influence your rewards. Like so many other managers, yours might have discretionary resources available for rewards but just doesn’t use them. She might have some power to influence senior management regarding your rewards, but just doesn’t use it. She might be able to jump through hoops to get you more rewards, but just doesn’t do it. That doesn’t mean you should be pressuring her for more rewards all the time. Rather, it means that you need to make it obvious to that boss that you deserve more rewards, and do everything you can to make it easier for her to give you more of whatever discretionary rewards are at her disposal.

Those discretionary rewards might include the following:

  • Money and benefits. How much of your base pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions you can control? What is the value of your benefits? What are the levers you can pull to drive your own compensation up?
  • Work Schedule. What is the default work schedule? How much flexibility is there? What levers can you pull to earn more scheduling flexibility?
  • Relationships. Who will you be working with? Which vendors, customers, coworkers, subordinates, and managers? What levers can you pull to have more control over who you have a chance to work (or not work) with?
  • Tasks. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will you be assigned to do? Are there any special projects? What levers can you pull to get more opportunities to work on choice tasks, responsibilities, or projects?
  • Learning opportunities. Will there be any special learning opportunities? What levers can you pull to access more learning opportunities?
  • Location. Where will you be located? How much control will you have over your workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What levers can you pull to control your location?

If you want a custom deal that includes some or all of these key elements of your job, you need to know what discretionary resources your boss has at her disposal and help her help you get more of them. What hard work can you offer? What extra efforts can you make? What value can you add? What leverage do you have? What can you bring to the table as a bargaining chip to earn more of those discretionary resources? Make sure the boss feels as if she is getting a good bargain—that she will be delighted to make a special arrangement to reward you because you are delivering so much value in return.

That’s why I always tell people to look out for really tough assignments, special assignments, and roles that are hard to fill. Look for ways you can sacrifice to save your boss trouble. Don’t be annoyed when all the pressure is on you. Instead, be grateful: This is your big chance to prove yourself and make a huge investment in your career, and to build up your professional reputation and a significant positive balance in your management relationship account.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,

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