It’s human nature.  We want to move up in the world, make more money, improve our social standing and even increase our power.  In a world that’s so focused on being upwardly mobile, why would anyone waste her time making career moves from side to side?


If you were to ask 10 successful veteran corporate workers about their career paths, they would likely be more untraditional then you’d think.  Life events, unforeseen circumstances and even career missteps play into most everyone’s personal journey toward success.


One common element among those most successful people is that they understand the difference between pay and promotion and career progression, and that you don’t need the first two things in order to achieve the third.


#1 Lateral career moves can better position you for the future. It’s easy to get caught up in short-term wins and forget about the big picture, but moving laterally can help you acquire new knowledge, skills and experiences that will round out your personal tool kit and make you a stronger candidate for a wider amount of roles in the future.  The old adage that “success is where preparation and opportunity meet” is particularly true for people who take the opportunities around them to learn as many different aspects of their business as possible.  For instance, if you’re in a product-facing role, try to spend some time in a customer-facing role and a vendor-facing role.  Having experience in all three will make you better capable then a peer or even a leader when it comes to articulating solutions to common pain points and improving overall business performance.


#2 Parallel career moves demonstrate strong learning agility. “Learning agility” is one of those HR terms that your company uses to identify people they think are “high potential,” or people they want to invest in long-term.  To become part of that elite group of individuals, you need to demonstrate a high level of learning agility, which means that you can be put into almost any kind of role or situation and be successful because of your ability to quickly learn new concepts and apply them.  It can be challenging to secure promoted roles with increased responsibility in the time frame you want to move your career, and lateral moves are often more freely available, and just as rich in learning opportunities and challenges.


#3 Moving laterally improves your visibility with a broader group of leaders. We all hear it, but we all forget to do it – network.  Especially in large organizations where leaders can be less accessible, you want to make a name for yourself.  When it comes to review time, and leaders are comparing you against your peers, you don’t want to be in the position where people don’t know who you are and what you can do.  Lateral career moves allow you to work under a new set of leaders who will be able to firsthand vouch for your capabilities and can become very strong advocates for your career advancement.  All good leaders have a “short list” of talent they want to grow, and your goal is to be on as many of these lists as possible.


#4 It shows your boss and your leaders that you’re willing to do the work. If you were approached to take a lateral move instead of seeking it out, don’t take it as a sign that you are not worth being promoted or are not valued.  Many times in business, there are initiatives or projects or even teams that have fallen off track and require new focus.  People who can build reputations as “fixers” are invaluable to organizations, and jumping in with a positive attitude to help solve a business need will show your leaders that you are committed to making the company successful without being overly focused on immediate personal gain.


#5 Lateral moves can keep you better engaged. Even in the most exciting jobs, things can become rote once you’ve really mastered your role.  If you like the company, and the role that you really want is not yet available, choosing a lateral position can often be just the tonic you need to keep you interested in your work and engaged with the company because you will be learning something new. Of course, before you take the lateral role, make it clear with your manager and leadership team where you want to be and ensure that the move you’re about to make will be a useful step in getting there.


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