Recently, I was facilitating a career development workshop for one of my clients; this is a mid-size specialized organization that is not hierarchical in nature. In fact, it’s relatively flat. One of the challenges for the leaders in this company is how to grow themselves and their employees when there is not a lot of upward mobility.
A big part of this workshop focused upon what “growth” means in that type of environment and, in similar companies. The reality is that growth typically does not mean “upwards”. It means taking on additional tasks, increasing breadth of responsibility, and growing your skill set within your current function or department. It means leading projects and task teams and doing what you can to prepare yourself when (and if) that next level position opens up.
This all starts with an understanding of what career growth means to you, personally, and to those employees you lead. In this particular company, growth often means continuing to learn how to contribute to the organization’s mission. It also means taking on challenging assignments. This type of growth can happen without the necessarily moving upward in level or position so many people obtain a lot of career growth and job satisfaction where they are. For others that is not the case. They want the upward mobility because that is how they define “growth”. If that is the case for individuals in a flat organization, they need to face the reality that this type of growth may not happen where they are. Sometimes this reality leads to them seeking employment elsewhere, some place where there is more opportunity for upward movement.
So, when I get the question, “How do I grow when there’s no place to go?”, I cannot help but respond with, “There is always someplace to grow and to go.” There are growth opportunities both within and outside your organization. The opportunities lie in your defining what growth means for you (and understanding what it means for those you lead) and then being realistic about how to obtain those opportunities.