Back to Insights

Don’t Just Look Up – Consider Lateral Moves to Propel Your Career

In a dynamic business world that embraces versatility and innovation, the notion of career growth has evolved beyond the traditional upward climb. One strategy that is becoming increasingly vital for carving an exceptional career path: lateral job rotations. This is a fundamental shift in mindset among HR leaders and organizations. The value of acquiring diverse experiences and honing versatile skills rather than focusing on traditional vertical progression through promotions and higher titles is gaining greater recognition.

As we consult with today’s exceptional HR leaders and seasoned executives, seeking their insights for future HR leaders, many of these successful individuals have embraced various horizontal shifts on their own journeys. Whether it involved a leap from the United States to the Asia Pacific region, or a switch from an HRBP position to a CoE opportunity, they took risks to diversify their skills and experiences—and this became a significant key differentiator for them.

Conversations with HR Leaders

Miguel Perez, the Vice President of Human Resources at Highmark Health, shares his valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of HR leadership and the pivotal role lateral movements play in shaping leaders capable of driving business success.

Diversity of experience and thinking can be significantly accelerated through lateral moves and will be a catalyst in the development of new competencies. I have personally benefited from a very diverse set of experiences shifting from different functions, living in different countries, operational and strategy roles. Those experiences have prepared me as a business leader who can adapt to the situation, think holistically, and ultimately create business value. It would have taken me longer to develop those capabilities if I had only taken the upward career path approach.

We also caught up with Monica Novomisle, Chief People Officer of North America at Kraft Heinz, who shared her perspectives on the evolving landscape of human resources and the strategic choices that propelled her to her current role. Monica’s path included lateral moves and upward shifts, a path that Kraft Heinz emphasizes.

If you want to sit in the HR leadership positions for a company – you want to have the experience that you can only achieve from these types of movements. These moves can be across continents, moving in and out of HR for business experience or alternating between CoEs, HR Business Partnering and HR Shared Services/Operations.”

Let us explore the different types of lateral moves within the HR landscape that not only make you exceptionally attractive in the market but also elevate your profile for bigger, more impactful roles.

Gaining a Holistic Understanding of HR

As HR professionals ascend the career ladder, the journey becomes less about climbing and more about crafting a holistic understanding of their domain. One effective (and the most common) way to achieve this is through lateral moves alternating between different facets of human resources. Transitioning from a generalist role to a specialist function, or vice versa, provides a panoramic view of HR’s myriad aspects. For example, going from an HR Business Partner role supporting a division or business unit to a Talent Management CoE role cultivates a unique balance between operational intricacies and strategic foresight, resulting in a comprehensive and agile HR professional who bridges the gap between strategy and execution. “The intricate interplay between CoE, HRBP, and HR Shared Services/HRIS models requires HR professionals to appreciate each facet of HR deeply,” Monica added, “You want to understand the value of what each area of HR can deliver.  If you have not worked in each of these areas, you will not have the understanding to exceptionally deliver for your consumer and customer, your employee, and your business.”

While tradition might suggest that sticking to a single path guarantees expertise, the reality is that exploring diverse HR functional areas creates accelerated learning and adaptability. Many of the most exceptional and talented HR leaders today have navigated and benefited from these very rotations. Subsequently they seek similar profiles and experiences when building their teams.

As new HR operating models continue to rise, the requirement for multi-skilled HR leaders who are highly adaptable and flexible is growing more and more evident.

Diversifying Expertise: The Lateral Leap Beyond HR

The corporate environment thrives on cross-functional collaboration. As an HR leader, broadening the horizons beyond HR through sideways moves can unlock unforeseen opportunities. We see HR leaders shifting to and from finance, IT, and operations leadership roles to gain solid business acumen. Coupled with a deeper comprehension of business functions, this enables them to craft superior HR strategies that align seamlessly with organizational goals.

The allure of lateral leaps beyond HR lies in the opportunity to build capability to translate HR strategies more effectively into tangible business outcomes. Adaptability in HR and other functional areas positions executives as dynamic and capable of steering the organization towards holistic success.

Lateral Moves Across Geographic Regions

Lateral moves that involve transferring to another region can provide HR leaders with invaluable exposure to diverse cultures, business practices, and regulatory frameworks. This exposure not only bolsters your adaptability and cross-cultural communication skills but also empowers you to craft more inclusive and globally relevant HR strategies. “Having had the privilege to live in thirteen different cities worldwide, I now have a much deeper understanding of our values globally. I have a better global business impact due to my experience abroad. Diversity, talent, mobility – I understand those concepts with a broader view, from the perspectives of both developed and emerging markets,” says Monica, “Increasingly, companies will consider global experiences essential for HR leadership.”

In Conclusion

These and other conversations with successful senior HR leaders underscore the transformational potential of job rotations. The integration of functional expertise, business acumen, global perspectives, cultural awareness, and adaptability enables HR leaders to rise above challenges and navigate the ever-changing corporate landscape. As the best multinational organizations continue to champion role rotations, they demonstrate a commitment to nurturing leaders who are not only technically proficient but also possess the wisdom to lead with empathy, innovation, and a global mindset.

Lateral movement signifies a progression that not only enhances individual careers but also revolutionizes our approach to corporate leadership. The future of the C-suite lies in leaders who not only understand but excel in both the business and people dimensions of their roles. The journey? It’s an ongoing exploration where lateral rotations are the emergent guide toward a new era of executive success.


Keep up with the latest HR insights and updates.
Sign up

Recent Posts