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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Options abound in your own backyard

By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun

Hamsters, as far as anyone knows, are perfectly content to step onto their little carrousels and go 'round and 'round. Humans, on the other hand, soon tire of spinning their wheels, especially at work, and look for something else to do.
A lateral mover should get as much information as possible about the new position and be open with colleagues about their intentions, says Gerry Smith of Warren Sheppell Consultants.

That need not lead to freshening up a resume in anticipation of the big leap; it might mean something as simple and satisfying as a move sideways into another department of the same company. A human resources manager, for example, could decide on a switch to customer service.

But irrespective of company, job or job title, there are certain precepts and practices any laterally moving employee or any manager welcoming a lateral mover should observe.

Susan Rogers, vice-president of human resources at CTV Television Inc., says for an employee to move sideways successfully he or she has to have more than 50% of the skills needed for the new position; must be prepared to take a risk, and needs a manager who can spot potential rather than a superior who demands actual accomplishment.

The unsuccessful lateral mover is equally easy to pick out, Rogers continues. "The ones I've seen fail have been employees who think they can go in and just be dynamite and God's gift (to the department) in their new role."

Rogers counsels those making a lateral move to another part of the same company to listen, watch, be attentive and certainly express an opinion, but be mindful that another department might be doing certain things because they work.

"There has to be a balance," Rogers says. "Generally, in failures, there hasn't been a balance."

Another reason for the unsuccessful move is a less than welcoming environment. Rogers says without mentoring, formal or informal -- CTV has a careful if informal system in place -- new arrivals are shown a desk and left to their own devices, so it's hardly surprising they don't measure up.

Gerry Smith couldn't agree more. The vice-president of organizational health at Warren Sheppell Consultants in Toronto says just dumping someone in an office or on a shop floor is asking for trouble.

"Any kind of lateral change within an organization requires a really smooth communication process," Smith says. Established employees should be told someone is joining them and efforts should be made to orient the newcomer to the department.

For his or her part, the lateral mover should find out what the new job is all about, and at the same time tell colleagues why they've chosen to make a sideways move, Smith advises.

There are some companies with formal programs or policies in place to help the lateral mover, but most firms don't have the time or resources for them, Smith says, "although if they actually sat down and worked out the cost I'm sure they'd find it's better to spend the money and the time on preserving good people within an organization rather than training new people from outside."

One person who has made a couple of successful lateral moves is Donna Lee at Sears Canada in Toronto, where she's worked for 38 years.

Lee began working for the company in 1965 as a secretary in general purchasing, moving to catalogue advertising in 1974 where she stayed until the end of last year.

A bout of restructuring was pushing her job towards oblivion and although she could have retired, she preferred not to.

Then a manager mentioned to her there was a vacancy in human resources, an area she'd had some experience with in catalogue advertising. She's now co-ordinates associate relations, employee pay and benefits.

At first, Lee wasn't sure she wanted the job, but admits it's been a real boost. "It's given me a new lease on life. I'm happier now and I see that a change is as good as a rest."

(Reach freelancer David Chilton at

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