Thursday, October 3, 2013

Vertical Career Movement: It’s Not Always About Moving Up

The Limits of Vertical Career Movement

vertical career movementWhen it comes to vertical career movement, the biggest deterrents are social norms and political beliefs. Specifically, I’m talking about the social norm that we go up or we fail; and the political belief that people who don’t move up or desire to do so have something wrong with them.

That assertion might have been a little surprising, because of the fact that when most people talk about making a vertical move, they only mean making an “upward” move. This viewpoint is limiting, as I describe in my post about the Career Continuum.

There are a few questions we need to be asking ourselves when it comes to perceiving upward vertical career movement as the only kind of movement to be desired by employees:

  1. Why is it that the belief that individuals shouldn't want to stay at one career level, or even move down a level or two, is so pervasive?
  2. How does societal pressure and judgment get in the way of offering people that kind of career mobility and flexibility?
  3. And finally, how well are organizations prepared to accept and assist employees who want it?

“Down” Shouldn’t Necessarily Mean “Out”

On one hand, your organization has been paying and developing an employee, and they want to see you grow and take on more responsibility. They don’t want to hear them say “I want 70% of my current pay and responsibility.”

But we have to look at some demographics for whom this is a desired move: for example, women in their childbearing years, or people who have a sick parent or parents. These are just two segments of individuals who may choose to move down the ladder by reducing their time and responsibility at work to take on more responsibilities at home for a few years - or they may choose to temporarily leave the workforce entirely.

Their ability to stay current is an issue, but so is society’s acceptance of that decision and that model. We already see a lot of this movement in the workplace currently, but we’re going to see a lot more of it in the future. However, it shouldn’t be seen as a problem.

Competition in the Workplace Is Healthy

There is also the somewhat radical idea that people should change jobs more frequently in order to motivate other employees at the organization.

Creating a perception in the organization that a lot of people are changing roles, when in reality most of them are staying in the same role, can actually be a healthy thing, because it introduces competition and provides the option for people to bid on incremental changes in their career in both directions.

Traditionally, organizations are structured in tiers and levels. So creating an environment where people can make incremental changes in both directions – up and down – gives them more satisfaction, while still leaving open the option to leapfrog grades or step down. But it’s definitely a mindset and a philosophy.

There are a lot of pros and cons to it, of course, but at the heart of it, you have to address the fact that not everyone is going to be happy staying in the same role for a long period of time.

Vertical Career Moves: Charting a Path for the Future

Managers don’t want people to change roles, because that means they have to train new people. But from an ROI standpoint, you have to ask “Would this person have stayed as long or longer if they’d had this flexibility?” and “Are they going to be happy at their job without it?”

Ultimately, if you don’t create these kinds of flexible environments, you’re creating greater risks that people are going to leave or become disengaged. So this is a chance to look at vertical movement more constructively, to create an environment of refreshment and opportunity.

And ultimately this is good for the organization as well, because it provides people with the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, to put on different glasses, and look at things in a way they haven’t before. And with that comes innovation and new approaches to problem solving.

I do think that every organization will have to chart their own paths in this in the next few years. Compensation planning, the equality equation, and personnel activity all play a part in this. And true, if you have more personnel movement, you have more chances of making mistakes and being perceived as unfair. You'll have more struggles with compensation because it’s more complex. You'll have to offer better incentive programs, and allow for more incremental career changes.

Is it more complex to manage? Yes, possibly. But you have to look at the tradeoff: higher employee engagement, and a longer lasting, more productive workforce.

Is it worth it? That’s for you to decide.

Up next: Read about lateral career movement.


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