It seems more and more I field phone calls from up-and-comers relatively early in their careers who’ve been sent my way to hear about the benefits of making lateral moves. I’m not sure when I was crowned the Queen of Laterals at AT&T, but I have been in the same title for three jobs, so perhaps that’s why. I’m happy to be a champion for this particular career choice. It’s been a secret weapon of sorts for me.
First, what do I consider a lateral move? I will over-simplify by saying it’s a move within the company that doesn’t result in a title change. If I’m a director in this role and I take a lateral to another position, I’m still a director.
There are a lot of myths out there about lateral moves. I’m here to dispel a few.
Myth 1: A lateral move doesn’t advance your career.
Nonsense. Even if you’re moving from making fries to making shakes, you’re still learning a different part of the business operation. Now you’ve mastered shakes and you’re running the register and, just like that, you know more about the business than your peers. That’s when the big boss calls on you to take on a management role. For me, it wasn’t fries and shakes, but different segments within our sales channel. As a sales rep, understanding our various customer types made me a prime candidate to ultimately manage a team of sellers.
Myth 2: I’ll lose all my contacts and momentum from my current group.
Sure you will. If you allow it to happen. This part is challenging and takes discipline. People are busy.
Who doesn’t overhear this 10 times a day?
Q: “How are you doing?”
It’s your responsibility to keep up with those you’ve left behind. Sometimes that can feel like a job within itself, but well worth it. YOU are responsible for your career. And that means reminding people from your previous role(s) exactly what you’re up to, what tools you’re adding to your tool belt, and how that helps the bigger picture. There’s no one more relevant than the person who can share a best practice from their new organization with their old co-workers. “Hey, Bob, remember that huge headache we have every month around staffing? Well, here’s what my new group does to solve for that. You’re welcome.”
You’re a hero, Bob’s a hero. Everybody wins.
Myth 3: There’s no increased responsibility.
Then you’re doing it wrong. This is the ultimate reason why I have love for the lateral in a large corporation. You could be an individual contributor (read: no direct reports) one day and, the next job, have the same title, but be responsible for the performance of thousands. In what world is that not increased responsibility? If you manage your career path strategically, every lateral is a promotion in responsibility.
When I call a friend excited about my new (lateral) job change and the first thing I hear is “Congrats on your promotion!,” I no longer take the time to correct them. Any opportunity to be trusted with running another part of a complicated business IS a promotion in my book.
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