Horizontal Career Move: Love it or Leave it?


Client Challenge: "We have the reputation of being a good employer and so we have a lot of people who continue to stay employed with our company for a long time. The challenge, then, is to promote talent when we don't have any space open at the top of the company. How can we get our long time managers/leaders to agree on a horizontal move…in a company where vertical promotions are the norm?"

-VP HR Europe, Global Industrial Real Estate Investment Trust





Making Space for New Talent

This is a whale of a problem when your own corporate cultural norm is "up or out”. Sideways isn’t appreciated, even less is stepping down to a coaching/mentoring position.

At the same time, attracting and retaining young talent is a key strategy for any organisation that wants to stay leading edge and innovative. This is because most senior managers have the tendency to take less risks -- due to their longer experience in making mistakes – which of course is not the right attitude for innovative thinking.

A few companies have found a way to make a fundamental change in the way they make space for new talent. Here are three examples:

  1. Some companies have a rule that employees can only stay three to five years in any one position, which creates a natural rotation.
  2. In other companies, every job is up for re-evaluation each year. In this case, studies have shown that 85% of the employees see this as a threat (i.e. they fear that their contribution is not really valuable to the company) so this needs to be addressed with sensitivity.
  3. Many companies form "incubator offspring” – where the talent is brought into a new, innovative venture sponsored by the parent company, but kept apart from the money-making operation. This has several advantages, foremost the autonomy to think and act in new ways, without a watchful and sceptical attitude of peers and seniors who see the venture as a threat. When proven successful and sustainable on their own, the incubator is integrated into the parent company (IBM ThinkPad division).

We favour a combination of solutions 1 and 3, making this a cultural/HR intervention alongside a strategic, opportunity-defining one.

Solution 1 is tough, but mainly for selected senior managers who will need expert coaching and support to adjust their traditional assumptions about career advancement. Solution 3 is less threatening for senior managers, and not so much a change initiative than a business venture.

As a first step, we recommend to focus on introducing new HR systems that will define and monitor horizontal career moves as well as career advancements, and provide autonomy for young managers to do new things. It should be a well thought-out process that emphasises the positive aspect of the change, ie "a business improvement initiative”.

For further information on how to deploy solution 1, you're welcome to have a chat. Email lilian.eilers@theblueoceancompany.com to book a call.



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