Climbing the ladder – upwards or sideways?

Climbing the ladder – upwards or sideways?

Career progress can go in more than one direction, and we’re not talking about up or down. It can go left or right, or zigzag diagonally for a spell. Indeed, it’s now not unusual for professionals to advance horizontally, especially in companies that operate an agile methodology.

Let’s explore the advantages of lateral moves.

The familiar route of going up

Traditionally, we think of promotions as an upward trajectory. In essence, this is what we refer to as vertical promotion. Here, one ascends the organisational hierarchy, gaining fancier job titles and deeper responsibilities.

Vertical promotions have many well-known benefits, which mainly include the following:

  • Professional growth
    A vertical promotion keeps you on your career path, giving you more responsibilities and access to resources that will help you further grow in your career.
  • Higher pay
    Vertical promotions are typically accompanied by an increased salary. You get more reasonable compensation as you handle more complex leadership roles.
  • Greater decision-making power
    As you climb up the ladder, you take on greater responsibilities and more power to make and enact decisions. In other words, your actions will have more impact on your company.
  • Opportunities for leadership
    Vertical promotions put you in increasingly complex leadership positions. 

On the downside, vertical promotion is not as straightforward as it sounds. The career ladder can be a very greasy pole, and employees need to put a lot of time and effort into earning that much-needed promotion. 

Lateral promotions: trying something new

Xin Jin of the University of South Florida and Michael Waldman of Cornell University, concluded that lateral moves did not just benefit organisations: employees who experienced them were more likely to be promoted and to enjoy higher wage growth later in their careers than employees who did not. You can move up by first moving sideways.

While this does not necessarily give you a more important job in your organisation, it considers your worth in other areas where you may be more suitable and possibly more apt at getting a vertical promotion.

As an alternative to the traditional upward climb, it delivers several advantages, namely:

  • Broader professional experience. A lateral promotion exposes you to a new work environment complete with its own rules and requirements. As such, it lets you master new skills and add new disciplines to your portfolio.
  • Better communication skills. Getting transferred to different teams gives you a better understanding of how different departments work. In this way, you become an effective cross-department communicator and a more valuable asset to your company.
  • Equivalent level of responsibility. Although you are essentially promoted to a different department, the movement does not necessarily come with an increase in responsibility. You get to do things differently though, making this type of promotion ideal for people who want to maximise their learnings before going up the career ladder. 

While a lateral promotion sounds like an exhilarating prospect, it’s not all flowers and rainbows. For one, it does not usually merit a salary increase and can set you on a new career path, meaning more time to ascend the organisational hierarchy. 

About Sam P

EnterpriseZone Staff Writer

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