December 1, 2021
talent development

The Name Of The New Game Is Horizontal Skilling

The pandemic continues to teach us many things about our perceived norms concerning employee desires and that of the talent management industry.

While career development is crucial, we must come to grips with the fact that more employees are not seeking to climb the ladder.

Yes, upward mobility, succession planning, and merit promotions will continue to be necessary, but it’s perhaps no longer the prime employee satisfaction or engagement criteria.

Maybe that’s why—in part—employees are quitting in droves.

There are millions of employees who don’t want to move up; they want to grow across.

Introducing Horizontal Ignition

I’m calling it “horizontal ignition.” Vertical ambition is still there but I believe it has given way to this forgotten form of horizontal skilling. And if I’m a senior leader, I’m setting a new organization-wide leadership tone. It’s time to project a new mindset.

Horizontal ignition centers around team members who desire experiential learning, new peer networks, and increased skill development. They accomplish this aspiration by working with others across the organization outside their usual roles. They may be interested in promotions and more senior positions at some point in time. That’s fine.

However, horizontal ignition suggests that a large percentage of employees want to take on lateral learning and expertise exchange rather than climbing the ladder for more responsibility.

It’s a crucial mindset change for an organization’s senior leaders to contemplate.

Stuck In The Old

Organizations cannot continue tailoring their talent management strategy to preserve “bench strength.” This myopia is the very reason many employees will leave. Moreover, if senior leaders fixate solely on career development paths—code for promotion paths—it will exacerbate the exodus of employees seeking development that does not necessitate job promotion.

Significant more Millennials and GenZ employees are not making their place of work central to their life. It’s an important part but not the focal point.

Frankly speaking, it ought to be a wake-up call for senior leaders.

What Do Gen Z and Millennials Want?

What these two generations seek from the employer is an investment in their whole self. Be it skills, networks, knowledge, or experience, employees are beginning to call the shots on what will make them stay.

It’s precisely at this moment where senior leaders need to alter their thinking. It’s time for horizontal ignition.

Organizations and their senior leaders should concoct an enterprise-wide plan to offer team members aspects including but not limited to:

  • differentiated assignments
  • cross-functional projects
  • short-term rotations
  • job-shadowing
  • internal free agency program

It’s no longer solely about moving up but growing across. Horizontal ignition is—quite literally—igniting the skill development of employees horizontally in the organization. Therefore, the approach should focus on critical opportunities for employees to network and learn from others.

Arguably it’s been a long time coming. But, in a way, an employee’s self-fulfillment has become the new job promotion for many.

If I’m in charge of the organization’s culture, talent, and overall leadership development strategy, this is my 2022 goal.

Set a new course that doesn’t forget or eliminate vertical ambition. Compliment your talent strategy with a new concept: horizontal ignition.

It may even save you thousands of dollars in hiring, recruitment and onboarding costs down the line.

Dan’s Newest Book

Click for details about Dan’s latest book, Work-Life Bloom.

Buy Dan's Books
Listen to Dan's Podcast
Read Dan's Column On