Get the most out of the new kind of career ladder

Are people less caught up with scaling the professional ladder?
Think lengthways, and start experimenting in your current position.
Getting on in the working world has never been so important. But is it still an environment where climbing the ranks yields the best returns? According to Priscilla Claman, president of Career Strategies and Harvard Business Review contributor, linear career ladders haven’t existed in most organisations for at least 15 years. Technological advances mean new opportunities and added flexibility when it comes to moving jobs, and that’s meant a change in the attitude of workers.
A NextGen survey led by PwC found that so-called Millennials cite versatility, work-life balance and global opportunities as the things that will make them happier at work – rather than the status or financial reward associated with moving up the ranks of a particular profession. This is almost certainly an exaggeration – making more money has rarely gone out of fashion. But if it is true, how could you move forward without moving up?


First, consider the value of moving horizontally, rather than vertically. Claman suggests looking at your role – say, analyst – but in a different department of your company. Making the most of transferable skills could mean going from financial analyst to marketing analyst – a move that’ll also mean you can develop new expertise very quickly. Working laterally could even bring you a more rewarding challenge, and potentially a better promotion along the road.
Furthermore, many jobs are structured in such a way that you are probably enhancing your skills and experience laterally, in day-to-day activity, anyway – through project work, for example. Mike Burgeneay of consulting firm Chiumento, speaking to the Institute of Leadership and Management, calls this sideways movement the “career carousel”, where workers are able to hop on and off different roles.


There’s another reason why this works for people, says Burgeneay: flatter organisations. With entire levels of management being stripped away, he says, you don’t just move up the career ladder anymore. This “delayering” also means disruption to the traditional ways of making decisions. Working in a startup, for instance, might mean all hands on deck, but it also means it’s not just those at the top who can have all the good ideas. A wobbly career ladder fits with the displacement of conventional hierarchies.


Of course, having bright ideas within your own role can’t hurt either. Claman recommends keeping ahead of the curve by making use of technologies which could enhance how you work. It may not lead to promotion, but it will better equip you to move into a different role should you so choose.
Yet for all this talk of lateral development and unconventional rewards, outside the trendiest startups it’s clearly untrue that business hierarchies just died 15 years ago. Perhaps the best way of thinking about the new theories of corporate progression are that there are benefits to looking at your role in the broadest possible context. Being aware of career possibilities beyond the job just above you clearly isn’t a bad idea.

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