Horizontal Career Growth: What It Is And Why You Should Care


The traditional career path of climbing the corporate hierarchy has been changing. 

Instead of following a straight path, professionals are now opting for a more flexible approach. 

This new trend is called horizontal career growth. It involves expanding skills and experiences by taking on different roles and opportunities within or outside of one's current field.

By pursuing a horizontal career path, individuals can gain diverse skills that make them more versatile. 

They can also build a robust network by interacting with professionals from various industries. This increased marketability can open doors to new and exciting opportunities.

In this guide, we will explore horizontal career growth in depth. 

We will discuss the benefits it offers and provide practical tips for employers who want to adapt to this modern expectation. 

The goal is to help employers understand how they can support their employees' horizontal career development, creating a positive and fulfilling work environment.

What Is Horizontal Career Growth?

Horizontal career growth refers to a situation where an employee chooses to specialize in a specific area of business instead of seeking a promotion to a management position. 

It can also occur when an employee wants to acquire a diverse set of skills by collaborating with different departments. 

This approach allows employees to grow within the organization without the need to climb the corporate ladder.

This concept has been prevalent in larger firms since the 1990s but remains relatively underutilized in many modern companies. 

The idea behind horizontal career development is that employees can shift roles horizontally, moving laterally within the organization rather than vertically advancing to higher positions.

Proponents of Horizontal Career Development & Horizontal Career Path

Horizontal career development, also known as a horizontal career path, refers to a career progression where an individual moves within their current job level or role, rather than advancing vertically into higher positions. 

Instead of climbing up the corporate ladder, individuals pursuing a horizontal path focus on expanding their skill set, acquiring new experiences, and potentially exploring different areas of their field or industry.

There are several reasons why someone might choose to pursue a horizontal path:

  • Skill Diversification: Instead of specializing in a single role, individuals can acquire a broader range of skills by working in different departments or roles at the same level. 
  • Work-Life Balance: Pursuing a horizontal path might mean fewer responsibilities associated with higher-level roles, allowing for better work-life balance and reduced stress.
  • Passion and Interest: Some individuals might find more satisfaction in exploring different aspects of their field rather than solely focusing on climbing the corporate ladder.
  • Avoiding Management Roles: Not everyone is interested in or suited for managerial positions, and a horizontal path allows individuals to excel in their current roles without the pressure of leadership.
  • Expertise Development: Focusing on a particular job level allows individuals to become experts in their specific roles, contributing significant value to their teams and organizations.

Options for horizontal development include:

  • Job Rotation: This involves moving to different roles within the same organization to gain a well-rounded understanding of different functions.
  • Cross-Training: Employees learn skills and tasks outside of their immediate job responsibilities to increase their versatility.
  • Project-Based Roles: Participating in various projects within the organization can provide exposure to different aspects of the business.
  • Specialization: Becoming an expert in a particular area within your current role can lead to increased responsibility and recognition.
  • Mentorship and Training: Engaging in mentorship or training programs can enhance skills and provide exposure to different areas.
  • Lateral Moves: Transferring to a different department or team can provide new challenges and experiences.
  • Freelancing or Consulting: Transitioning to freelancing or consulting roles can allow you to work on different projects and expand your expertise.
  • Skill Development: Continuously learning and updating skills relevant to your current role can help you excel and become an indispensable asset to your organization.
  • Networking: Building a strong professional network within and outside your organization can open up new opportunities for lateral moves or project-based roles.
  • Contributing to Innovation: Focusing on innovation within your current role can lead to the development of new products, processes, or solutions.

Ultimately, the choice between vertical and horizontal development depends on an individual's personal goals, strengths, interests, and values. 

A horizontal path can be just as rewarding as a vertical one, as long as it aligns with your aspirations and contributes to your professional growth and satisfaction.

Horizontal Career Growth a Worldwide Rising Trend

So, why is horizontal career growth becoming more popular? Well, there are a few reasons for this trend. 

  • Decline of Vertical Growth

Firstly, vertical growth, which refers to climbing the corporate ladder, is not as common as it used to be. 

The job market is constantly changing and professionals are looking for more flexibility and adaptability in their careers. 

This type of career growth provides them with the opportunity to gain a diverse range of skills and experiences.

  • Younger Generations Entering the Workforce

Another reason for the rising popularity of horizontal growth is that the younger generations entering the workforce have different priorities. 

They value things like work-life balance, purpose-driven work, and opportunities for personal and professional development. 

They don't want to be tied down to a single role or organization. Horizontal growth allows them to pursue their passions and explore different career paths.

  • Increasing Gig Economy

Lastly, the increasing gig economy plays a role in the popularity of horizontal growth. 

With more opportunities for remote and project-based work, professionals have the freedom to take on various roles and projects. 

This allows them to build their skills and experiences on their own terms.

4 Benefits of Horizontal Career Growth In 2023 & Beyond

It is a great option for both businesses and employees. It's important to recognize that not every good employee will excel in a managerial role.

When employees are promoted vertically, they are often placed in management or supervisory positions where they may struggle or even fail. 

This can be detrimental to both the employee's career satisfaction and the success of the business.

Fortunately, it provides an alternative. It allows employees to continue progressing in their careers without taking on managerial responsibilities. 

This means that they can focus on what they do best and continue to thrive in their current role.

The benefits of following a horizontal career path are clear. 

Here’s what you need to know further:

  • Growth Prospects In Different Areas

When it comes to growth and experience, pursuing a horizontal career move can be beneficial. 

It allows professionals to expand their skills, knowledge, and experience in their industry, making them more versatile and adaptable in their careers. How does this happen? 

Well, by taking on different roles in various functional areas such as marketing, HR, finance, and operations, individuals can gain exposure to different aspects of a business. 

This exposure helps them develop a well-rounded skillset and a deeper understanding of how different functions work together.

Not only that, but professionals can also specialize in a rare skill set. 

By focusing on a specific area of expertise, they can become an invaluable asset to their organization. 

Additionally, pursuing roles in different industries or sectors can provide a fresh perspective and new challenges. 

This can help professionals think outside the box and bring innovative ideas to the table.

Furthermore, individuals can even explore different job types such as freelance work, part-time work, or project-based work. 

This flexibility allows professionals to have a more diverse portfolio of experiences and gives them the freedom to choose projects that align with their interests and goals.

  • Opportunities To Become Well-Rounded Employee(s)

Moving between different positions in a career can be very beneficial for employees. 

It allows them to gain exposure to different perspectives and experiences, which can help them become more well-rounded individuals. 

It also gives them the opportunity to develop skills that can be applied in various contexts, making them more versatile and adaptable. 

This kind of career movement can also spark creativity, as they are constantly faced with new challenges and problem-solving opportunities.

One of the great things about this style of career movement is that it allows individuals to pursue paths that align with their interests and passions. 

They are not limited to one specific role or industry but instead have the freedom to explore different areas and discover what truly excites them. 

This personal growth is incredibly valuable and can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying career.

Additionally, moving between different positions can also help employees build resilience and flexibility. 

They become more comfortable with change and are able to quickly adapt to new environments and cultures. 

This is a valuable skill in today's rapidly changing world and can greatly increase their marketability to future employers.

  • Increased Benefits For Companies

When companies prioritize employee support, it creates a positive cycle of engagement. 

When employees feel supported, they are more motivated to support the organization in return. 

This support can take many forms, such as providing opportunities for horizontal career growth.

Employees who are actively involved in their work exhibit better performance compared to their less engaged counterparts. 

In general, enterprises characterized by elevated employee engagement witness a 21% increase in profitability.

By offering horizontal growth, employees are given the chance to expand their skills and knowledge in various areas. 

This not only keeps them engaged but also shows that the company values their growth and development. 

When employees see that their organization is invested in their success, they become more motivated and driven in their work.

Engaged employees are more likely to go above and beyond in their roles. They are more willing to take on additional responsibilities and contribute innovative ideas. 

This ultimately benefits the company as a whole, as it leads to increased productivity and improved performance.

  • Translates To Higher Retention Rates

When employers prioritize their employees' development and offer resources for growth and personal goal achievement, it motivates employees to invest their time and energy into the company. 

This, in turn, can lead to higher retention rates. 

The trend of horizontal growth has several implications for employers in today's workforce. 

To adapt to this trend, employers must encourage career development by providing opportunities for deeper specialization, lateral moves, job rotation, and cross-functional projects. 

These opportunities allow employees to build diverse skill sets and gain exposure to different areas of the company.

Businesses that prioritize training and growth experience a 34% increase in employee retention rates.

It's equally important for employers to recognize and reward employee growth. 

This recognition can come in the form of salary increases, promotions, or other incentives. 

More than 91% of human resource experts hold the view that acknowledging and providing rewards enhances the likelihood of employees remaining with the company.

In another research, it was found that an employee who has received recognition demonstrates a 63% higher inclination to continue their present employment over the following three to six months.

By acknowledging and rewarding employees, employers can motivate them to explore more career opportunities within the company beyond their current roles.

Professionals in KSA broaden career horizons in line with Vision 2030

More professionals in Saudi Arabia are moving away from traditional oil and gas roles and exploring opportunities in the government, education, and non-profit sectors. 

This shift is in line with the country's Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the economy and reduce dependency on oil and gas. 

According to a LinkedIn report, the number of professionals in these sectors increased by 3.5 per cent from October 2016 to October 2017

The oil and energy sector also saw a slight rise of 0.7 per cent, along with architecture and engineering. 

In terms of roles, professionals in government, education, and non-profits are opting for positions in marketing and business development.

The report also highlights migration trends in Saudi Arabia. 

The top countries with the highest net migration to the country are India, the US, and the Philippines. India, the US, and Egypt are the top sources of talent for Saudi Arabia. 

The functions benefiting the most from the inflow of talent are engineering, operations, and information technology. 

LinkedIn aims to provide labour market insights to policymakers to help them make informed decisions.

Overall, this report indicates that professionals in Saudi Arabia are embracing career opportunities beyond the oil and gas industry and are actively contributing to the country's vision of economic diversification.

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