Why Horizontal Growth Is The Key To A High Performing Workforce

Companies must build corporate structures that support horizontal growth to prepare for today’s generational realities.

By Melanie Holly Pasch

March 4, 2020


Amid the rise of artificial intelligence, big data, digitization, and the gig economy, the modern workplace and the nature of work itself are undergoing significant transformations. These changes present challenges and opportunities for employers and employees alike – and as millennials dominate the workforce and Generation Z becoming a growing presence, keeping this new breed of employees engaged and fulfilled is among the biggest challenges confronting today’s employers.    

How can organizations meet the needs and expectations of the new workforce in the context of a dynamic, rapidly changing economy?

Enter horizontal growth – an approach that rethinks the traditional climb of the corporate ladder. This approach enables employees to pursue a variety of stimulating, career building experiences outside the traditional confines of their primary roles to develop dynamic and diverse skill sets.  By allowing employees to dedicate a portion of their work time to learn new dynamic skills, organizations can meet employees’ demand for personal growth and enrichment, while better equipping them to collaborate cross-functionally and creatively solve problems.

Why is horizontal growth necessary?

For the modern workplace, horizontal growth isn’t merely a strategy for keeping employees engaged and satisfied – it’s a basic necessity for any company or individual who wants to succeed in today’s ever-evolving business landscape.

In the coming years, 61 million Gen Z’s will be entering the workforce, while their slightly older millennial colleagues already dominate the workplace as the largest generation in the workforce. Their needs, expectations, and capabilities are different from their predecessors, so employers must adapt to maximize their productivity, happiness, and longevity or risk becoming an undesired employer – with the detrimental business consequences that come with it.

What do these young workers want?

The Deloitte Millennial Survey found that 48% of Millennials and 44% of Gen Z’s ranked ‘opportunities for continuing learning’ as a very important component when choosing whether to work for an organization or not, with 75% of Gen Z’s interested in holding multiple roles within their company.

Companies that recognize the need to provide a wide range of in-house opportunities early, will inevitably be most attractive to employees today and tomorrow, particularly as they look to navigate the transformations reshaping the nature of work. The World Economic Forum notes that nearly two-thirds of today’s children are forecast to one day hold jobs that do not currently exist. To truly stand out in the job market, employees must be able to showcase a variety of skills and capabilities, or they will face diminishing prospects for future success.

Through horizontal growth, employees can embark on a course of continuous development and learning, shoring up their core abilities while positioning themselves for future advancement – whether within an organization or at a new company. A Sales Account Manager, for instance, may be interested in gaining experience in graphic design. A company that facilitates this opportunity is one that respects and responds to what their employees want, supports their ambitions, and sees the value of a well-rounded workforce.

Adding value to employees’ roles can help to bring passion, meaning, and excitement back to day-to-day work life, thereby boosting performance and productivity, which drives business growth. LeadershipIQ found that in 42% of companies, high-performers are far less engaged than lower performers. Once we begin to ascertain just how crucial constant personal growth and development is to an employee, this statistic is hardly surprising.  If top performers are not challenged, they will be less productive, lose interest, and begin to search for challenges elsewhere, a catastrophic reality for businesses.


Businesses benefit from horizontal growth

Focusing on the happiness, development, and productivity of employees is not only good for them, it’s imperative for business too. According to recent research, companies that put a priority on employee development make a median revenue of $161,100 per employee while companies that don’t make about half that amount, $82,800. The findings are categorically clear – those who are committed to empowering their employees reap great business rewards.  

In addition to the financial boost, horizontal growth can also be a vital tool to combat high employee turnover. The cost of replacing an employee lies anywhere between 90%-200% of their annual salary, not to mention the immense domino effect high turnover has on office morale and productivity. Another study shows that managers can spend 17% of their time managing poor performers, which inevitably leaves top performers on the backburner, leading to effectively risking the loss of top talent.

However, technology has emerged that can help HR managers recognize and create potential horizontal growth opportunities for employees – helping organizations nurture their talent and stave off turnover.

Investing in horizontal growth is a winning long-term strategy

The future of work is dynamic and fluid where employees feel empowered to take on a variety of roles and constantly learn. Companies must build corporate structures that support horizontal growth to prepare for today’s generational realities and promote long-term success for both themselves and their employees.

When provided with opportunities for horizontal growth, employees feel better prepared for the future and can tangibly see their skill set increasing. For employers navigating workforce changes and seeking to retain their best and brightest, horizontal growth offers a roadmap to building loyalty and trust. The path to success isn’t simply a vertical climb up the ladder, it also lies in broadening the horizons of each employee.

InnerMobility by Gloat is an AI-powered internal talent marketplace connecting employees with personalized career development opportunities within the company. 

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