How moving sideways moves your company forward

This guest blog is written by Mary Lou Burke Afonso, Chief Operations Officer at Bright Horizons

Nobody understands a problem like the person who has it.

It’s the reason many of the most successful products were born out of people looking to solve their own problems.

The same principle applies not just outside of our organisations, but also inside them. If you want to understand the needs of your technology platform for example, your best approach is to talk to the people who will be using it.

This is one of the enduring principles behind lateral career movement – the reason employers need to allow people to grow into new roles in completely different departments in their organisations: to problem solve and bring new perspectives.

Today’s talent strategy and keeping up with a tough market

Moving sideways is great for people’s careers. In 2018, we know people don’t expect to stay in the same role forever. And in the current employment market, we also know they don’t have to. In a study of 2000 employees reported on Harvard Business Review, nearly 90% said they’d accept a lateral move even if it didn’t come with a raise.

But as a talent strategy, it’s important for organisations as well. When you take someone with knowledge and expertise in one department and allow them to stretch into a completely different part of the company, their value grows exponentially. Suddenly, they’re strategising in ways that reflect holistic issues across the workplace, making decisions based on the larger good versus merely the view from their own silos.

This to me is a personal story; it’s my story. I came to Bright Horizons from public accounting as a controller. And that financial foundation informed my knowledge for my later work across the company in customer service, new business lines, and the job I have today. And every time I moved, I took the company knowledge I gained from my previous role and leveraged it in the next. It allowed me to see our business lines not as individual functions but as connected resources.

Just as important, in all my moves across the company, I never left behind what and who I got to know.  To this day, because of my previous roles, I’m always asking, what’s the financial impact? How does it impact operations of any line of business? What does this mean for our growth? Experiences like mine are relevant to almost any speciality where people who are on the receiving end with the problem can move to the delivery side to trouble-shoot the solution.

Connecting people; connecting departments

There’s another important benefit. When you move people laterally, you do more than maximise talent; you bridge departments. That encourages colleagues to work together to think about solutions with the bigger picture – the company picture – in mind. All of that’s harder to do when your employees are sequestered in their departments and thinking about individual challenges as merely their own problems.

Sideways has one more upside. We’re in an age of rapid developments — when it’s been said that many of the jobs people will take on tomorrow don’t even exist today.  A culture that encourages lateral movement – in which managers are open to those opportunities – allows emerging leaders to fill holes that we can’t even see; where today’s infrastructure hasn’t yet caught up to need. It’s good for the company; it’s good for careers.

If there’s a downside, it means that managers will essentially be setting themselves up to lose valuable employees to colleagues. It’s true, lateral moves will mean giving people up. But better to give up a valuable employee to another department in your company (and for a good cause)…than to lose them from the company for good.