It’s easy to think of career growth as a straight line. But what if there was another approach?
Horizontal career growth exists in stark contrast to vertical career growth. Vertical growth is the type that will be most familiar to American professionals. It encourages us to leverage our existing skills to climb in a straight line up the corporate ladder, saddling us with additional managerial responsibilities along the way.
You might say that vertical career growth requires us to master other people, whereas horizontal career growth requires us to master ourselves. Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Horizontal Growth?
The difference, fundamentally, between these two types of personal accomplishment is this: Vertical growth has a tendency to focus on flashy new job titles. Horizontal growth, meanwhile, is a way to create value. It says a lot about American corporate culture that people get hung up on titles instead of focusing on what’s really important: Expanding our knowledge. Maybe it’s time to change all that.
Precillia Redmond over at the Forté Foundation got it right when she compared vertical growth to a ladder and horizontal growth to a lattice. The imagery is unmistakable. It’s true that a ladder will help you ascend to new heights rather rapidly, but it’s also an extremely limiting path to take. You’ll have a relatively narrow perspective on the company and its business. You also run the risk of hitting an upward limit on your mobility — particularly if you happen to work for a company where employees tend to stick around for a long while.
Imagining your career trajectory as a lattice could open up a wealth of new possibilities. If you’re not keen on the ladder metaphor, try this one: Vertical growth is like taking the elevator straight to your destination. Horizontal growth is like opening a bunch of new doors on the floor you’re already on.
Below, we’ll take a look at why horizontal growth could be the answer you’ve been looking for.
Why Is Horizontal Career Growth So Valuable?
Although I don’t want to generalize, horizontal growth could soon be the new normal in American corporate culture. It just makes sense, considering how well-rounded modern employees are expected to be in our complex, interconnected, technologically-savvy world. It allows you to leverage and improve upon the skills you already have, in order to take on new responsibilities and experience different types of thought leadership.
Moving “across” the company, rather than in an upward trajectory, means you get to see and experience different departments and teams. You get to meet new people, try out different roles and get a hands-on look at everything that goes on at the company.
It’s worth noting, though, that horizontal and vertical growth are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can complement each other extremely well. You can think of horizontal growth as developing a root system, like a tree; it helps anchor you and lays an important foundation for the tree to grow taller.
In any event, horizontal growth is also extremely fulfilling, not just in your professional life but in your personal life, as well. You’ll get to try out new ways of thinking and explore new approaches to problem solving.