Friday, August 20, 2010

Zigzagging to Success

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Given that mathematical certainty, it stands to reason that every couple of years employees should seek a promotion – more responsibility, larger projects, bigger organizations to manage – all with the goal of getting closer to the top layers of the company.

But promotion is not always the most desirable path. One of the benefits of working for a large corporation is the ability to move within the company and gain experience. This is a benefit that you can leverage to enhance your career.

Consider the lateral move.

The lateral move is defined as a shift in job responsibilities, without an increase in job title or pay grade. It’s a different job at the same level you are at today. Examples of lateral moves include moving to an entirely different business unit within the same discipline, or moving to a new discipline or skill area within your current unit. While you might not get a fancy new title with the move, there are lots of reasons to consider accepting (and even seeking out) lateral moves, especially early in your career:

1. Enhancing skills – There is no better way to build skills than by doing the job. Whether you are moving from sales to marketing, or moving to a new product area within a development team, a lateral move is one of the quickest ways to learn something new. In turn, the new skills make you more valuable to the company.

2. Understanding of the business – Managers and executives often seem to be too far away from where the action is to understand how their decisions will be implemented or will impact employees. The more you know about how things really work in the trenches, the better off you will be when it’s your turn to make those decisions.

3. It’s an easier transition than a new job with a promotion – If you’re bored with your current job, or you are at a point in your career where you want a change, but don’t want the extra hours and responsibilities that usually come with a promotional opportunity, taking a lateral move may be just the boost you need to keep you engaged and vital.

4. You can bring a fresh perspective – When you move into a new discipline or a different business unit, you bring with you the knowledge from your prior roles. If you are moving from sales to marketing, you can instantly be an expert on how the sales teams will react to a new marketing program. If you’re moving from a software unit to a services unit, you may be able to spot opportunities for the units to work together. If you can leverage your knowledge from prior roles, you will quickly be considered an asset to your new team.

5. Exposure to different managers and executives – Throughout your career you will report to dozens of managers. It’s great to be well known and respected by the managers and executives in one area of the business, but when the leaders of multiple business units know and respect you, you will be better positioned for higher level opportunities in the future.

What’s your experience with the lateral move? Would you consider it?


Anonymous said...

My lateral moves were implemented by moving between companies and around the world. Early on in my career I worked as a contractor so I got to work in lots of differing environments and situations.

These day's I am quite happy just to be good at what I do. I still look for a challenge but I just don't want to move 'up'. Sadly it seems that is not enough these days. Companies always want to do more, whatever 'more' is?

Colette said...

Anonymous, it's great that you are happy where you are. Companies do have a tendency to push people to always want more, and many end up in places where they don't where by doing that. Good for you for doing what you want to do!

SteveB said...

I zigged when I should have zagged! Actually quite happy with the path I took and where I ended my career. Now an independent consultant having a great time at that too.

Was struck by your comment concerning the executives who loose sight of how their decisions could affect the business. A frequent occurrence in my last assignment, sometimes just apparently simple requests could end up boiling the ocean with many person-hours getting completely absorbed without anyone questioning the value of that activity. And of course with unrealistic deadlines. We always hoped that our management would push back sometimes - that was rare.

Colette said...

SteveB - yes, a very common occurrence I'm afraid...