Career ladder or bridge?


When considering career development, typically people think about moving up the career ladder, suggesting that the only way to improve yourself is to move up the hierarchy within your organization. In reality, though, not everyone wants to take on a more senior role within their organization.

There are plenty of salespeople, for example, who are not interested in (and should, in fact, be actively discouraged from!) becoming sales managers. Being good at sales doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be good at managing people, so perhaps a salesperson’s career path should be more about adding and refining the skills that will help them to sell even more.

The right path for one person is not necessarily the right one for their colleague, so development plans should be tailored for individual employees to help them be the best they can be in their current and target roles, without pushing them in a direction that they don’t want to go in.

There’s a lot to be said for being an all-rounder. Yes, we’re all familiar with the sayings “jack of all trades, master of none” and “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, but broadening your knowledge across a number of functions can help you to develop business acumen that will help you make more informed decisions in many situations.

As Ron Ashkenas puts it in his recent post on

“More and more however, the real contributors will be the process owners and project leaders that are able to provide horizontal leadership. To support this shift, organizations will need to reward and recognize horizontal contributions as much, if not more, than hierarchical positions.”

Career moves within an organization may be lateral when viewing a job hierarchy, but an employee who has gained experience across several functional areas of the same business may well ultimately be in a stronger position for a senior role at a later date, should they be interested in climbing that ladder we’ve already mentioned…

Ultimately, perhaps it may be helpful to think of career development as a bridge, helping you to close the gaps to get from where you are now to where you’d like to go next, but that doesn’t have to mean an uphill move every time.



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