What is a lateral move?

Lateral moves are a career choice where an employee leaves their current role for another role with a similar salary, title, or seniority. Lateral moves can be made between two companies, within the same company or even the same department.

Understanding lateral moves

Lateral moves describe the process of an employee moving from their current position to one that is similar in salary, title, or seniority. 

Whilst a lateral move is not a promotion, it can be beneficial for those who want to:

  • Increase the depth or breadth of their skill set. 
  • Follow their passions and do meaningful work.
  • Develop more resilience. Many employees find lateral moves to be an effective way to challenge themselves and keep things interesting.
  • Improve work-life integration. 
  • Establish or increase their professional network., and
  • Open up the potential for a better salary long-term. Lateral moves may be a short-term price some are willing to pay to eventually access roles with more attractive salaries.

Benefits of lateral moves to business

Lateral moves may result in a business losing reliable or talented employees, but there do also exist some research-backed benefits:

What are some of the downsides of a lateral move?

Like any career move, lateral moves will not be suitable for everyone. Here are some of the potential downsides:

  1. Compensation – as we touched on earlier, these moves are not promotions. Each individual must weigh up their circumstances to determine whether moving companies is worth the hassle. In other words, would a lateral move advance their career faster at another employer? Is the individual willing to work for a lower salary for the prospect of more attractive remuneration in the medium-term?
  2. Lack of clarity – those who make lateral moves often and deviate from their career path risk raising a red flag to recruiters. In this instance, employees must be able to articulate why they change positions frequently and how those moves fit into their career plans.
  3. Lack of career growth when a lateral move does not eventually result in a promotion or a more attractive salary, it can result in career stagnation. To reduce the likelihood that a lateral move leads nowhere, employees must perform due diligence on the new company and ask lots of questions. Is there a clear growth path? What is the expected timeframe for promotions and does the company tend to promote internally?

Key takeaways:

  • Lateral moves describe the process of an employee moving from their current position to one that is similar in salary, title, or seniority. 
  • Lateral moves can be beneficial for employees who want to pursue a passion career, extend their professional network, or simply start afresh. At the organizational level, lateral moves improve performance, employee retention, and the capabilities of the workforce. 
  • Some of the potential downsides of lateral moves include a lack of career growth and clarity. It can also be difficult to determine whether the move is worth the employee’s time or resources.

Related Leadership Concepts


Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

Smart Goals

A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although this management style might be understood in some cases, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this leadership type can lead to increased work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness in the team.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

RASCI Matrix

A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Flat Organizational Structure

In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.

Tactical Management

Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 to encourage industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way to perform a workplace job.

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