What Does Career Development Look Like In a Flat Organization?

Finding the best way Concept on blackboard.

Contrary to popular belief flat corporate structures aren’t bad for healthy career development. Like any good health regime, it’s a matter of defining success.  In this case success isn’t a climb up the hierarchal ladder.  What career success looks like in a flat organization is a series of mind-altering experiences.  Think of career success as a host of journeys to different travel destinations rather than a single visit to the summit of Everest.

Exposure to more parts of an organization leads to a bigger-world picture for those sufficiently ambitious and talented enough to board the train of expanded thinking.  Participating in operations from different perspectives gives employees a fuller business experience and an opportunity to discover talents or interests that might have remained hidden otherwise.

A star in project management, for instance, may accept a lateral “promotion” to the finance team for a challenging change. Working on the corporate budget, revenue streams, expenses and forecasts, they find they’re actually really good with numbers, surprisingly like the work and spot novel ways to improve project management processes. As Shawn Malhotra noted in the Globe and Mail, “Innovation happens when someone begins to understand something beyond their day-to-day job and connects the dots.”  A strong sense of employee engagement comes with that connect the dot experience too.

career development flat organization

In flat organizational structures the premise is to promote employee engagement through involvement and decentralized decision-making.  There are few or no levels of middle management between staff and executive. This may look like a career limiting environment. But what if top talent aspiring to people management and eventually executive level positions, were invited to create an Employee Board of Directors, or if one already exists, to serve as a member.  As Chris Styles, the deputy dean of the Australian School of Business at the University of New South Wales noted, “If you’re going to be at a very senior management level you have to have a broader perspective than just your technical specialization."

With guidance from executive mentors this kind of skill-broadening experience could involve detailing governance responsibilities, crafting terms of reference, defining roles and purpose, setting short and long-term strategic directions and benchmarks to gauge progress. Perhaps one of the directives is to become a greener organization, or more social issue spirited. When the organization does well everyone benefits. The organization is recognized for its admirable corporate citizenry, the environment, social issue or community service reaps hands-on or philanthropic rewards, and employees are fulfilled by making meaningful contributions to the greater good of others. Safety, retention and absenteeism may be subjects to fall to this Board, giving star performers an opportunity to problem solve in areas outside of their fields of speciality.

It’s a matter of the mind and a willingness of the body; a matter of redefining how we think about success and how we actively encourage and reward career development.

author patricia bell newson

About Patricia Bell Newson

A graduate of Canada’s leading Journalism Degree program, Patricia Bell Newson is an accomplished writer and communications specialist. As a key member of the TalentMap team, Pat leads the company’s thought leadership with full force producing weekly content on employee engagement and best practices in employee surveys. Pat’s experience in advising leaders on strategic approaches to sensitive issues, priorities, and policies together with her ability to research and easily grasp various concepts regarding the workplace has been a great asset in creating valuable insights for HR leaders.

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