When sideways can mean a step up in your career


Moving laterally in your career can sometimes be seen as a negative, but increasingly decision-makers and executives see it as a must-have on any career path. A recent blog by Spencer Stuart, one of the world’s leading executive search consulting firms, puts the case that if you are wanting to progress in a given career, it is worth considering accumulating as much knowledge and experience as possible.

If they think much about building it at all, people tend to believe the best way to build a career is through a series of progressive steps — climbing the rungs of the proverbial ladder. Careers today, however, rarely advance along such a linear path. The complexity of business demands a breadth of knowledge and experience — functional, operational, profit and loss, geographic, leadership. Increasingly, leaders must have been tested in and survived assignments outside their comfort zone.

One approach many executives are taking is making a lateral move into a different functional area, geography or larger, more complex business. Most broadly defined, a lateral move is any job change with a similar title or level — and, often, similar compensation — that provides the opportunity to develop skills and experience in a new area, potentially expanding the individual’s career options. Some companies coordinate these moves as part of a development track for up-and-coming leaders, while many executives must find opportunities themselves within or outside of their organizations.

For example, aspiring senior leaders at Mondelēz International must acquire a “cocktail of competencies and capabilities” to be considered for top roles. According to MI’s Athene Van Mazijk, VP human resources, lateral moves throw individuals into completely new environments, with different cultures, different priorities, ways of working and communicating, different stakeholders and distinct vocabularies. All of this tests individuals’ resilience, their ability to learn and adapt, and their readiness for more complex and demanding positions.

Experts acknowledge, though, that there are risks. Especially when leaving a company where you have built a successful track record, a lateral move requires giving up the safety and security of the known: credibility built up over time and a support network to turn to for advice, help or a new opportunity if the assignment doesn’t work out.

Therefore, given the risks and the uncertain rewards, a lateral move should be carefully considered in light of how it fits into the larger vision of one’s career. Lateral moves can demonstrate an individual’s growth, potential and broad-based experience, but if the career progression doesn’t “make sense,” it can seed doubts in hiring managers about whether the individual has had the opportunity to really build successes over time.

“One needs to begin with the end in mind,” says Fabian Wong, president of Philips Consumer Lifestyle, Greater China.

So, the potential benefits and possible risks should be carefully considered so that the new role achieves developmental objectives and helps advance an overall career vision.

To read the original article in full, click here.

Spencer Stuart Copyright © 2015.

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