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Lateral Moves: When Do They Work?

Lateral Moves: When Do They Work?

Lateral Moves: When Do They Work?

It seems "up or out" has been the watchword of corporate life forever. And yet, increasing numbers of people are finding that there's another way to move -- laterally. But why? What's in it for lateral movers and their organizations?

When Do Workers Benefit?

We all have an individualized career metabolism. That means when it's time for a change, it's time for a change -- regardless of whether a spot is available or your family is ready for upheaval. When you stay put in a job longer than your mind and body want you to, there's a hefty price to pay -- emotionally and often physically.

Here are some situations where a lateral move would be right:

  • You want more challenge but not more responsibility, because your plate is already too full with challenges outside of work.
  • Your spouse is being moved and your company has a facility in the same location.
  • You and your boss or a colleague have locked horns and there doesn't seem to be any way to set the situation right.
  • The functions your unit performs are being outsourced, but you don't want to leave the company.
  • You're taking courses or completing a degree and don't want the stress of a promotion at the moment.
  • You're preparing for an eventual move and want to spend some time in a functional area where you haven't had that much experience.
  • There's an opportunity to report to someone in another unit from whom you can learn a great deal.  

What's in It for the Company?

Lateral moves benefit companies in two ways. First, allowing such moves lets the company keep people with good track records after their work has become boring or monotonous. Second, it saves on the costs of finding and training new employees. It also lessens the likelihood of employees taking secrets to a competitor.

Lateral moves allow organizations to place personnel where they're needed. In an organization with few top slots available, these changes allow the company to give employees new challenges without promoting them. This solution offers an antidote to the "I'm-dead-ended-and-bored" lament heard so often in organizations today.

Shouldn't I Be Moving Up Instead of Over?

That depends. In organizations where the leadership emphasizes the importance of new challenges and ongoing skill development, it doesn't seem strange at all. In fact, lateral moves are welcomed as the energizing challenges they can be. In companies organized like a military hierarchy, such moves may not go down well. But then again, those places aren't doing well in a lot of ways these days.

Lateral moves work best in organizations where employees have access to flexibility and perks that give them a sense of career progression. Like all workplace innovations, lateral moves will succeed in places where both leaders and workers dedicate themselves to making what's good for the company coincide with what's good for its employees.

Saying no to "up or out" and asking for a lateral move because it fits with where you are in life may be a great way to start taking charge of your own career.


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