Help! I’ve been offered a lateral move – but I wanted promotion

Yes, you may be smarting a little and yet no, it’s not the end of the world – or even your career. There’s probably more to it than you think – and there’s probably a silver lining. So please don’t do anything rash.

Bear in mind this might not be all about you. There could be one or more reasons:

  • A change in direction for the entire company
  • A major new initiative / client / acquisition / territory requires reorganisation and more people
  • The company policy encourages lateral moves

First, do some fact-finding

Who knew you were after a promotion? (you’re a smart person so we can take it as read that you didn’t assume ‘they just knew’ – can’t we?) Who have you discussed this with? This is the person or people you need to ask some questions about the why, what and how of the move you’ve been offered. For starters, if you haven’t already done so, get some feedback on your performance to date (whether it’s positive or negative) and how that links to the transfer on offer. Ask for their advice: what would they do in your position?

Reflect on how you got to here

Get pen and paper and note your thoughts on what’s worked well for you in your current role. What triumphs and breakthroughs have you achieved? Think on what’s not worked so well – and the lessons you’ve learned from that. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you want to do differently in your next role?

Consider why it could be good

Many multi-national companies have a policy of moving employees into different parts of the firm, so that they experience different facets of the business. Consider how that will benefit you – and them.

  • You’ll be more visible to different managers, leaders and experts.
  • You’ll be able to expand your network of colleagues and people who know ‘how things work around here’.
  • You can learn new skills, gain in-depth knowledge, or learn a new language. Your employer may be able to support you with training, a coach or mentor.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to take a different perspective on your employer – what they do and how they do it.
  • You’ll be better placed to work across silos and collaborate.
  • You may be stretched beyond your comfort zone – and grow in the process.
  • You’ll be able to apply your strengths in new situations.
  • You may well be more valuable to your employer than if you’d stayed in your previous role.

Of course there’s a clear line of sight when you move straight upwards – but the potential downside is being pigeon-holed and having fewer routes to the top jobs. Whilst many functions have entry levels – such as finance, marketing and operations – there’s no ‘right way’ to start out on the route to CEO, so no wonder Glassdoor says a lateral move can be a ‘power move’. Taking a lateral move could be the smartest career move you can make.

Questions about career progress often come up in my ‘How to manage upwards’; please get in touch if you want to find out more.

You may find this post useful: ‘Stepping up with your strengths – or stuck in your comfort zone?’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’



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