What is the best way to advance in a career?
The most common answer: get a promotion… For many, this is the only way!
Our concept of “promotion” is quite ancestral. It translates into increased responsibility, prestige and remuneration.
But career progression is not just about the legendary “promotion”. We have a choice of vertical or horizontal advancement.
Which path do you choose to take: climb the ladder or explore the lattice?
Let me explain…
Climb the ladder ?
Vertical advancement is what many call “climbing the organizational ladder”. It’s a promotion in its most traditional sense.
The advantages of following the vertical path
The benefits of vertical careers are widely known. This assignment comes with.... Higher hierarchical status…. Greater responsibility and…. A salary increase.
This approach has its place when you are on a specialized track, when job options are clear and when you know what role you would like to have. Indeed, each role throughout the journey will build on and deepen experience and knowledge, and it is natural to be motivated to acquire promotions and progress.
The disadvantages of following the vertical path
This type of career path sometimes creates a domino effect. Its sequence begins when the best performing individuals reach their peak: this is the famous Peter’s principle… This empirical law on hierarchical organizations. According to this principle, “in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence,” with the result that “over time, any position will be filled by an employee who is unable to take responsibility for it.”
We insist on promoting the best performing (or most loyal) employees without realizing that more skills, abilities and knowledge are needed to fully assume this new role! A new role needs preparation.... And it’s a process that sometimes takes place over several years.
When this is not done upstream, these individuals may find themselves without the necessary skills... What comes next is that their teams become suspicious, demotivated and disengaged.
Unfortunately, it is only once they are already full of bumps and bruises that we tend to help them acquire these skills. But sometimes it’s too late – the damage is done and is irreversible!
Not to mention that not everyone, even the best performers, is supposed to “climb the ladder” … And some just don’t want to! These high-performing employees can be advanced without putting them in a position of tension that can be unsatisfactory and detrimental to all in the long run.
Explore the lattice ?
Horizontal advancement is when you move sideways within your organization, rather than upwards. Imagine your career path not as a ladder, which forces you to climb predefined levels up to your destination, but rather as a lattice… Which allows you to change your trajectory whenever you want, offers you several new positions in your organization and opens up a multitude of new possibilities.
Can you sense my enthusiasm? 😊
The disadvantages of following the horizontal path
Unlike the vertical path that comes with a rank, a status and a salary increase, horizontal advancement occurs when you move between different departments within an organization, generally at a similar level of status and with comparable responsibilities.
It only involves a change of designation and may look more like a transfer than a promotion. This is also why these types of “promotions” are less desirable than vertical promotions. However, just because you don’t climb the ladder doesn’t mean you don’t progress in your career.
Sometimes these side moves can be perceived negatively by recruiters, or even random, especially if you don’t explain the context in which you made these decisions.
Some side movements, however rich in challenges, satisfaction and skills acquisition, may be accompanied by a wage reduction. You will therefore have to assess the benefit of developing these skills against a potential loss of salary.
So what are the benefits of a horizontal career path?
Benefits to the employee
The main advantage is that you are exposed to new knowledge, skills and responsibilities. It’s a great way to prepare for challenges and to be agile when changes occur... Individuals who master a variety of disciplines are sought after by innovative and proactive organizations.
The horizontal shift also allows you to sample the work environment in different departments to see where you prefer working, which allows you to find your own niche and build relationships with the people you prefer to work with.
This approach is also useful for anyone who is considering a career change, who increasingly needs to balance work and personal demands, who is returning to the workforce or who is looking to add a few tools to their toolbox.
Benefits to the employer
Horizontal movement is an excellent management technique for improving productivity and effectiveness within an organization. It is a means to create value; in many organizations, the concept of the ladder is replaced by the lattice approach.
As job descriptions become more fluid, employees who are able to master a variety of disciplines, adapt, and be agile are invaluable to any organization that wants to perform.
The horizontal promotion of career choice helps to place staff in more challenging positions and can help reduce frustrations due to lack of vertical promotions during periods of uncertainty or slow growth.
What do you really want ?
The best choice for career advancement depends above all on you, your reality, your ambitions and your interests. Only you can make an informed decision based on what is best for you in the short and long term.
But before you decide…… Have you:
… Taken the time to identify what you are passionate about, what makes you thrive?
… Explored what you like and don’t like doing?
… Identified how to get from where you are today to where you finally want to be?
Are you going to go up the ladder or exploring the lattice?
Vertical advances are undeniably good indicators that you are progressing in your career, but so are horizontal ones. The two are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they can be complementary.
As long as organizations are organized hierarchically, there will always be vertical careers. What makes me happy is… They are no longer the only choice!