Horizontal MovementIn the business world, much is made about promotions and your title and stature within a given company’s hierarchy (otherwise known as “vertical movement”). Of course this way of thinking has its place; it’s easy be motivated to perform your best for your company so that you can earn promotions and move up in title and responsibilities.

But there’s another trend gaining steam in the management world called “horizontal movement.” It’s a trend that is both good for your career and the company you work for, and it’s a trend that should be getting more attention.


What Is Horizontal Movement?

Horizontal movement occurs when you move across different departments or department locations within a company, usually within a similar status tier and with comparable responsibilities.

For example, you’re transferred to a different regional branch, or you go from a marketing branch to a sales branch. This is opposed to vertical movement, in which you move to a higher position in the company, usually with a greater set of responsibilities—such as from a worker position to a management position.


The Origins of Horizontal Movement

When I started hearing the term “horizontal movement” with increasing frequency in the business world, I decided to check it out for myself. It turns out there are plenty of mentions of horizontal movement in prominent business journals and marketing sites. Upon reading article after article and browsing user comments a bit, I realized that a lot of people in the business world are excited about this emerging trend—and for good reason.

Many of these ideas seem to have originated from concepts encouraged by management thinkers such as Frank Ostroff, who put together the idea of a horizontal organization in his book The Horizontal Organization, which was published as far back as 1999. For well over a decade now, publications and researchers around the world have been investigating the benefits of horizontal thinking in management. Big-name companies like Ford, Motorola, Xerox and General Electric have experimented with horizontal management techniques with great success, which has attracted the attention of many business thinkers and executives.


A Real-World Experiment

The more I read about horizontal movement techniques and their successful application, the more I wanted to apply some of the principles of horizontal movement within my own company, AmericaneLiquidStore. I talked to management about trying out some horizontal techniques with our employees, and from there, we started talking to our employees about possible horizontal transfers.

Several of our employees decided to try a horizontal transfer. For instance, one of our employees (I’ll refer to him as John) made a transfer from our sales department to a copywriting position. He felt he had a stronger affinity towards writing and that he could put his sales skills to better use writing copy for our company. As it turned out, he was right.

John ended up thoroughly enjoying his new position; his enthusiasm for writing was combined with his prior knowledge of our sales techniques and our sales goals to produce some excellent copy. We now had a talented copywriter who knew all of the ins and outs of our sales efforts. This saved our company money; we didn’t have to spend time hiring and training someone from outside.

Making intelligent horizontal transfers such as this helped to put our staff in more productive positions. It also increased communication between departments since our transfers were learning about the processes of multiple departments. These actions increased the efficiency and productivity of our available staff, as well as our actual company processes, which contributed directly to our bottom line.


Employee Benefits of Horizontal Movement

As you can see, horizontal movement is a great management technique for improving productivity and efficiency within a company. So, how does it benefit you personally as an employee? What’s the point of horizontal movement if you aren’t being promoted or assigned a higher status?

Well, consider what horizontal movement entails. By transferring from department to department, you accumulate several advantages that work favorably for your career.

  • First of all, you pick up new sets of disparate skills, which make for an attractive, marketable feature on your resume. Not only do these skills look great on a resume; they help you better understand the way a company works across departments, which improves communication between the departments and helps the departments to function together more effectively.

  • Moving horizontally also allows you to sample the working environment in different departments to see where you prefer to work, which enables you to find your own niche, do your best work and build relationships with people you prefer to work with.

  • Finally, such a process grooms you for eventual vertical movements as well. One of the most notorious management problems in companies large and small is the dreaded development of silos, or departments which don’t communicate effectively. They get in each other’s way and negatively affect morale. Couple this issue with managers who don’t know much about actual processes and just try to manage these silo departments without knowing anything about them, and you have a serious problem.

Today, upper management is in desperate need of talented individuals who offer a healthy breadth of technical and operational knowledge.

These benefits were brilliantly demonstrated in John’s case. When asked how his horizontal transfer worked out for him, John told us: “This transfer has been perfect for me. I get to do a lot more writing now, which I love to do, and I get to pick up some crucial skills in the process. I’m glad I went through with it.”


Making the Transfer

Are you interested in improving the processes of the company you work for? Do you want to try work in another department to see how it fits? Why not talk to your manager about horizontal movement?

If your manager hasn’t heard of the technique, try suggesting some reading on the subject. Any good manager should want to know the latest techniques in management, especially techniques that managers around the world are using with favorable results for their companies. Frame the suggestion in terms of what horizontal movement can do for the company, and what the technique has actually done for other companies.

You won’t regret trying out horizontal movement, and your manager won’t regret it, either!

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