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Here’s Why Growth Needn’t Always Be Vertical

Traditionally, growth in corporate companies has meant an employee’s vertical ascent through the hierarchy. Organizations lay out highly structured career paths for employees to follow in the hope that their rise through the corporate ranks will motivate them to perform better. But, this traditional model of growth hardly leaves any room for personal growth - an idea that’s gaining momentum within the increasingly Millennial workforce.

It’s not to say that companies don’t already emphasize the personal development of their employees. However, in many cases, it turns out to be just lip service, with companies actually focussed on improving margins over employees. A good way to overcome this bias is to rethink our ideas of growth and to realize that it needn’t be synonymous with vertical ascent.

Creating Opportunities For Lateral Growth

When companies stop limiting employees within well-defined career paths, and encourage them to explore their innate interests, it leads to better creativity and diversity in problem-solving. Leaders can foster horizontal growth by recognizing interests and potential, creating opportunities across divisions, and by rewarding risk-taking.

It will help create autonomy and make it safe for people to bring forward new ideas in parallel arenas. When people stop worrying so much about climbing the corporate ladder and attaining higher positions/ titles, it helps them think about creating variety in their responsibilities; helps them better understand their true calling through experimentation; and be more engaged and productive as employees.

The CEO - A Case In Point

The current CEO of Semco is an example of a person who has come up in the company because he did not follow a specific career path. He started out 12 years ago as a project manager at Semco. After some time in this role he transferred to the Procurement, Engineering and Finance departments where he multiple experiences and roles within a single company.

He was able to do this because he wasn’t limited to his role and was allowed and invited to take up different roles and learn something new from everything. It made him strong enough to take up a leadership role eventually.

Usually, the company picks someone who they think is ‘prepared’ for a leadership position. It’s a group decision to assign a person to that leadership role. But that being said, their decision is affected by the person’s interest levels, their work so far in the company and their willingness, at that moment, to take up more responsibility. This is what happened with the present CEO.

If employees do their best to get involved and engage at work, they will leave a mark. And when the company has no closed doors and allows their employees to find their calling, everyone has an opportunity.

Digging Deeper To Grow Higher

The CEO believes that no company should cull out a clearly defined path for its employees because it limits their potential and skills. For example, a person from marketing will only grow in that department but if he’s allowed a stint in HR or sales, he might discover something new about him that he did not know before. It might make him better at marketing or change his career, where he is able to contribute more effectively.

It might seem chaotic, at the outset, to imagine a company that doesn’t promote vertical growth. However, there are many great benefits to this reorientation: Lateral growth can be intellectually challenging, forcing people out of their comfort zones and maintain a continuous learning mindset.

It gives them an opportunity to dig into their other talents and skills when people are encouraged to experiment; it boosts their confidence to breach boundaries and explore new terrain; and finally, it helps them be more creative as problem solvers, who have a wider well of knowledge and experience to draw from.

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