February 7, 2022

Why Lateral Moves Are Beneficial To Your People

Melissa Malec

What’s the best way to climb a mountain? The boldest of us would prefer to attack it at its steepest point. But the flatter track that goes around the back of the mountain still gets you there. It might even provide you with new and delightful views you weren’t expecting.  

This tenuous metaphor introduces a key theme: there is more than one way to get to ‘the top’, whatever the top looks like for you. In the traditional work model, you start at the bottom and ascend your way to the top in a pre-ordained series of steps. 

But in today’s working world, we have the joy of choosing our own route to success and happiness in our work lives. At Learnerbly, we believe that progression is going anywhere but backwards (and even backwards is sometimes okay 😉). 

In this article, we’re looking at the benefits of lateral moves for your people’s career progression and growth.

What is a Lateral Move? 

To put it as plainly as possible, a lateral move is when an employee shifts their position to assume new responsibilities on the same career level. This can mean moving to a different company, but generally speaking and specific to this article, lateral moves refer to internal shifts in the same company, often to a new team.

This begs the question, how do we foster good career development and progression? It’s something we care about at Learnerbly, and happily enough, have already written about. So do check out our best advice on career development plans, what they are, why they are important, and how you develop them. Or you could look at the frameworks we suggest for making career progression everyone’s responsibility. 

Why Lateral Moves are Great for Your People 

Lateral moves are a great way to foster continuous learning. When making a lateral move, an employee will need to learn new skills and come across new experiences. If you have people who love diving in and giving things a go, they may find a lateral move suitable to their learning goals.

Lateral moves help people discover new careers

We’ve all probably observed a colleague’s work and thought, “wow, I’d love to try that!” Maybe you’re in Customer Service but have always wanted to try your hand at content writing. You might even know someone in Sales who wants to have a go at Partnerships. Or what about the person in Ops who always thought they’d like to get into the People function?

A lateral move empowers you to scratch that itch. It can take you through a career path you’re more suited to and interested in. Two of the above scenarios recently occurred at Learnerbly. And they’ve allowed for those people to pursue growth and progression in their own way.

Crispina, our now People Operations Manager started at Learnerbly as a Client Admin Associate. She had expressed interest in the People team early and set up shadowing and learning opportunities with them. When a vacancy came up in that team, Crispina applied and blew the hiring team away. It was a great move for her and the organisation as a whole. She is now pursuing a career path she’s more interested in which is exactly what a lateral move like this is for. 

More recently, Luke has made the leap from sales to partnerships. When talking to me about this move he said, “I’ve spent eight years in sales but I didn’t want it to be my ‘forever’. The idea of applying to a totally new type of role externally seems daunting and a risky move when you haven't done that role before since it's an unknown. I was really excited when the partnerships opportunity came up at Learnerbly. I know how Learnerbly functions already so it gave me the confidence to apply. I also have a lot of insights to bring from my time in sales which could help us problem solve and innovate.”

Lateral moves can make people more ‘marketable’

A lateral move can also make people more marketable in future job hunts. A candidate who can do two jobs instead of just one is intrinsically more valuable. It’s easy for people to say that they love new challenges and learning new skills on a cover letter but a lateral move provides tangible proof of adaptability and growth.

To learn more about the value of learning new skills for your careers, read our article covering upskilling, how to fill skill gaps and be a positive step forward in your people’s careers. 

Your people can also benefit from lateral moves as it will build the network and visibility they have in their organisation while also allowing for a greater understanding of the business. When someone moves to a new team they bring a unique perspective with them as Luke pointed out. They know how other parts of the business operates and can apply that to their new role. It is a strength for the team they are moving into.

Why Lateral Moves are Great for Managers and Leaders

Lateral moves aren’t only beneficial to the person making the move, it positively impacts the whole business. If people are happy and fulfilled by their work then their output will likely reflect this.

Innovation and cohesion can be cultivated (better yet, sparked!) through lateral moves. 

Think of lateral moves as the cross-pollination of bees and flowers. When a bee on moves from one flower to another they are bringing with them all the good things they collected from the first.

Speaking in real terms, people switching departments could break down common roadblocks that hamper innovation and productivity. The cross-pollination of knowledge, experience and ideas could lead to better inter-department communication and outcomes. 

Lateral moves help management

Breaking down these benefits, it’s good management of individuals, too. It could be a judgement call that someone might thrive in a different role. You might call it a leap of faith. And the reward for your faith? Seeing people flower in roles more suited to their personalities, thereby nurturing the companies ecosystem. 

And what about reluctant managers or would-be managers that aren’t quite ready? Sometimes a move is needed, but a move up just isn’t quite right. A lateral move could be a great way of solving anxieties and tensions. 

You’re also likely to get more understanding managers and leaders when they’ve lived in someone else’s shoes. If they can see both sides of friction between departments, they’ll be better adapted to fix it. 

And finally, it can also save time and money on recruiting someone externally. Hiring takes up time and energy. When you have internal people who are interested in making that switch you are bringing in someone who already knows the organisation and saves you the hassle of hiring and training someone completely new.

How to Implement Lateral Moves Effectively at Your Company

It’s not as easy as it sounds, of course. It has to be done intelligently and strategically before all else. But it also has to be down with a little faith, as we said. Taking a productive worker and dumping them into a new environment might incur teething problems. So the first step in implementing lateral moves effectively is showing a little faith in the team members involved. 

Speaking to Spacehuntr CEO Dietrich Moens, he told us that it’s best to see it as a two tick system, “We try to make it as simple as possible. It’s like matchmaking. Firstly, they need to want to do it. That’s one tick. And secondly, there has to be a genuine need for it. That’s the second tick.” 

Dietrich’s point is seriously worth noting. We said these moves require faith from managers but don’t mistake that for blind faith; the move has to make sense in terms of resources. So if a worker is beaming about their passion for trying sales, no matter how much you might want to accommodate them, if you don’t have the resources to bring on a sales member, then you simply can’t do it. 

What about when a move isn’t possible?

However, just because a role doesn’t exist yet doesn’t mean you can’t indulge the interests of your people. Companies can introduce and encourage shadowing opportunities and mentorships to get people involved with new skills and processes that could be relevant to future moves and ambitions. That way when a role does come up you have already given the person a taste of what the new role will entail while upskilling them to fill it.

Making the best decisions and moves for your team takes skill, and it takes knowledge. You need to know who they are, and what makes them tick, and what doesn’t. To that end, you can foster that by reading our article on how to identify learning needs in your people. 

Wrapping up

So there you have it, why lateral moves are beneficial to your people. Managers and companies as a whole stand to benefit as well. It turns out that the only way isn’t up. 

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