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Why You Should Prioritize Lateral Moves in Career Development

Many employers believe that giving employees promotions and raises is the only way to get them to stay. And while those elements are a piece of the retention puzzle, especially in the Great Resignation, there’s another method you might not have considered: prioritizing lateral moves in career paths and development. 

What is a Lateral Move? 

A lateral move is when an employee takes a new role at your company at the same level but in a different department or role type. That can mean moving from marketing to sales to gain customer-facing experience, taking on a role in a different location, or shifting to group-focused work instead of more independent tasks. 

Lateral moves don’t tend to come with an increase in compensation, and they’re not about getting directly to the next level of the organization. 

Lateral Moves in Career Development

Career development is often seen as a ladder, where people move from one role to the next going continually upwards. But not every employee wants to climb the ladder as high and fast as possible. It can be helpful to think of career development as a lattice, not a ladder, where employees upwards, sideways, and even downwards on occasion depending on their needs. 

Many people are not interested in becoming managers or leaders because of the increased time commitment and responsibilities, or perhaps they know those are roles that simply wouldn’t suit their skills. But that doesn’t mean there’s no path to developing a satisfying career for them – a lateral move in their career could be the perfect fit. 

And employees might want to move out of their current department to develop new skills or learn about another area of the business. Promoting an employee into a completely different role can be risky for both sides, but a lateral move allows them to try it out without the pressure of a promotion. 

Benefits of Lateral Moves 

Lateral moves in career development have benefits for both employees and employers. 

1. Increase Retention 

This is often the most surprising benefit of lateral moves – they can significantly increase retention rates. MIT Sloan Management Review found that the opportunity for a lateral move was 12 times more effective than offering someone a promotion in predicting employee retention, and 2.5 times more important than pay. 

And Gartner has found that employee intent to stay is 33% higher at companies with stronger internal hiring markets – and those internal hires perform better as well. Lateral moves give your company an opportunity to strengthen your internal hiring market with access to talent across functions, without the costs of raises and promotions. 

2. Enhance Skill Development 

Employees may love working at your company, but long for a different set of skills and responsibilities, a new location, or a new function. Lateral moves give them the chance to develop those new skills and progress in their careers while keeping them in your company. 

Lateral moves can also help employees develop cross-cultural skills as well, which is valuable in an increasingly international world. Offering employees the chance to work in another country or region can give them a welcome change while also increasing their skills in working with, and within, different cultures. 

3. Develop a Deeper Talent Bench

Encouraging employees to make lateral moves, and developing a clear process to support those moves, will help your organization to create employees with longer tenures and deeper experience across functions. This is essential for creating leaders for the future – employees who succeed in working across functions and cultures will have a strong foundation for leadership later on. 

Prioritizing lateral moves in careers for your employees is especially important when you have a very limited amount of leadership roles to fill or potential for upwards progression. They can help keep employees engaged right now while preparing them for a future leadership role when one opens up. If you’re not offering lateral moves, those talented employees are likely to move to another company, and you’ve lost the next generation of leaders. 

The Critical Role of Lateral Moves in Career Development 

Lateral moves help both employers and employees thrive, especially in difficult times. They increase retention and allow employees to gain new skills while keeping them engaged and satisfied with their career paths. 

For help in establishing effective processes for lateral moves, reach out to Cangrade to learn more.