For ambitious employees, the desire to move up the ranks in a company is often bridled by a hard reality: climbing the corporate ladder takes time. To rise from, say, an assistant or coordinator to a manager or director level within a company typically doesn’t happen overnight… or even in the span of a few years. Frustration over the pace of advancement leads many younger employees to abandon a company altogether in search of opportunity elsewhere.
After all, for the millennial generation in particular, switching jobs goes with the territory. Most millennials expect to leave their current job within three years, according to a recent Elance-oDesk study. (Compared to Gen Xers, who stick around for five years, or Baby Boomers, who average seven years.) Millennials have grown up against a backdrop of economic recession and scarcity, learning early on that getting ahead requires hustle, entrepreneurialism and creativity. Waiting around for a promotion—or hoping that long-term loyalty will be rewarded—just isn’t in their DNA.
I get this frustration. As an entrepreneur, I’ve never been one to patiently climb the corporate ladder, either. But I think some employees may be overlooking a golden opportunity in their careers—to move over, not up. Transferring laterally within a company, i.e. finding a new role in a new department, may not immediately translate to more pay or greater responsibility. But it can bring clear benefits, both in the short- and long-term.
For starters, there’s the obvious: you get to work with a new team on completely new projects. This means a chance to acquire new skills on the job and expand your resume—and get paid to do so. At the same time, moving laterally is almost always less disruptive than finding a brand new job. You’re spared all the job hunting, onboarding and life upheaval that goes along with starting over. Not to mention, you’re often even able to talk your way into positions that you might not qualify for at another company.
But there’s a deeper benefit, as well. People who learn to perform multiple roles within a company—and do them well—quickly become invaluable. They amass a skill set that a) practically no one else possesses and b) has real value to the business. And that’s where promotions and fast-track advancement often do come into the picture.
I’ve seen this time and again at Hootsuite. An employee may start out in sales, for instance, selling our social media management tool to clients. Instead of pursuing a senior sales role, however, he or she makes the jump to marketing. The learning curve can be steep initially, but in time you’ve got someone who knows exactly what prospective customers want and how to translate that into ads and marketing campaigns. That’s an employee worth keeping… and promoting.
Of course, I realize not all managers are enthusiastic about losing their people to other departments. But if an employee isn’t fulfilled in a role, then something has to give. I’d rather see him shift to a different team than lose him altogether. At the same time, I think any manager worth her salt wants what’s best for her employees. There’s no point in keeping someone around who isn’t happy, no matter how talented he may be. It’s far better to find alternate ways to channel that energy.
So how do you facilitate internal transfers and ensure you’re keeping top talent? I’ve found that many top employees actually search out their own opportunities—what’s critical is not getting in their way. They’ll set up casual meetings with other managers to understand how teams work together. They’ll ask to be assigned to projects that transcend their department. They’ll look for ways to bridge the technical and business sides of an organization. The key is not perceiving this as a threat but instead allowing this curiosity to flourish.
At the same time, as a business or a leader you can encourage cross-pollination in other ways. Lunch-and-learns—where teams have the chance to present to the entire company—can help break down silos. After work, social events—from talent nights to informal mixers—give employees a chance to connect with people outside their immediate circle. There’s huge value in those interactions—introductions are made, questions are asked and seeds planted for collaboration down the road.
Millennials may be notoriously demanding when it comes to fulfillment on the job, but this isn’t a bad thing. Companies that are able to discover ways to satisfy their curiosity and provide channels for growth—even if this doesn’t always mean direct advancement—will find that employee loyalty does exist, even in 2015. Enabling lateral movement can be the difference between retaining real contributors and losing them to the competition.