How lateral moves can actually move your organization forward

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

To a lot of hiring managers and recruiters, this is how your career progression is supposed to look:

  1. Get an entry-level job
  2. Do that job for two years
  3. Get promoted
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you retire

For them, anyone who doesn’t follow this steady, upward progression must clearly be a slacker and a horrible employee whom you should never hire.

For most of us who've actually had a job before, strict adherence to this path is obviously ridiculous.

And yet, hiring managers and recruiters want to see clear upward progression when hiring for management positions. But, upward isn’t always the best way to go.

I wanted to be a political science professor when I was 20. What about you?

I’m not a political science professor, and I’m glad I’m not.

When you pick your college major or first job, you’re not deciding your career for eternity. My first job was in fast food. I certainly didn’t want to stay there forever. (However, my friend who did now owns several franchises and a vacation home. Perhaps I should have stayed.)

Punishing someone for changing their mind about how they want their career to go means you lose out on many good employees. You’re probably not doing the job you dreamed of after your sixth grade career day, either. (Editor's note: I wanted to be a monster rancher.)

For a strong organization, you want well-rounded employees

Rewarding only upward progression can mean a person becomes locked into just one specific aspect of your organization. But what better way to cross-train than to encourage lateral moves?

As people move into leadership roles, you want them to understand more than just their immediate area.

After all, you don’t want a head of marketing that can’t read a profit-and-loss statement or a finance VP that knows nothing of employment laws.

Sure, it can take time and effort to train someone in a new department, but if you hire from the outside, you’ll have to take that same time and effort, and the new person is an unknown quantity.

You may not know how Alice from marketing will do in the finance department, but you do know her strong work ethic and how you want to keep her at your organization. When you fill roles with the people you already have, they come equipped with the internal knowledge of your products and systems that a new hire never has.

It’s generally easier and cheaper to handle an internal move than an external hire.

Not everyone wants to be the CEO

Sure, most people may want their CEO’s salary but don't want to do that job.

And that’s okay! Not everyone wants to manage people — which is a great thing.

People management is a specific skill, and not everyone comes by it naturally or wants to work to gain the skill. Demanding that people move up, up, and up means they can end up in jobs they aren’t suited for and don’t want to be in anyway.

When talking with employees about career paths, focus on what they want to do and how that can fit into your organization. You can improve your retention if you work with people to align their goals and interests with your needs.

Utilize the skills you don't even know you have

You can never fully know anyone. People are full of hidden talents and interests that will surprise you. But the only way you can see them is if you give them a chance to show you.

Your people are full of skills that can transfer from one department to the next that you haven't seen yet.

Someone who does market research may be a great fit in a compensation department — that statistical analysis can help your organization with ethical salary balancing. An HR trainer could be your next great sales trainer. After all, training is different than selling.

Left and right can also be forward

Your company will miss out on great employees and outstanding opportunities if you don’t consider the value of lateral moves. Ultimately, well-rounded employees bring a lot to any company, and this is how you get those types of employees.

To uncover the skills your people may be hiding and to learn how you can start connecting them to different roles across your organization, check out Cornerstone Xplor. As an AI-powered system for automatically connecting people to the learning and skills they need to be successful for any role in your organization, Cornerstone Xplor can be your organization's ticket to increased retention and continued success.

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