Several years ago, Laurie Battaglia had a direct report who was restless. Hoping to help her coworker out of that rut, Battaglia turned to their company’s internal posting board. Much to her surprise, she happened upon a job that appealed to her.
While Battaglia “wasn’t actively looking” to move to another division within her company — she held a leadership development post at a large mutual fund firm — a personality clash with her boss prompted her to pursue the new gig, as a training manager in the company’s financial division. Years later, she effected another internal move, this time into the retail division as a sales manager. Now, at 55, she not only holds a job as a training manager and leadership coach at one of the nation’s larger banks — she switched companies partly because the third job wasn’t what she’d hoped it would be, but also because she hates snow and knew there wouldn’t be much of it in Arizona where she now lives and works — but also counsels individuals who are “ready to reinvent themselves” at Living the Dream Coaches, which she co-owns.
Revisiting her multiple division shifts at the mutual fund company, Battaglia notes that “there was no set way to do it.” That’s the challenge many experienced employees face as they ponder the possibility of a new job within their old company: Owing to a raft of logistical, political and emotional pitfalls, they risk endangering their current position if they don’t pursue the new one with great care and, especially, sensitivity to ego. “In a way, you’re breaking up with your boss in favor of a different boss down the hall,” says Kevin Spense, founder of Career Thoughts and a veteran of two successful inter-company job changes. “It’s easy for people to get their feelings hurt.”
There’s good news, however. To hear HR execs and experienced employees tell it, the current employment climate for such moves is favorable. “The overall shifting of employer/employee culture will make it easier to move within a company,” notes Stan Kimer, a retired IBM exec who now leads his own consulting practice, Total Engagement Consulting. “Perhaps 20 years ago a manager practically owned a person’s career and determined where he went next. It is now more understood that each employee ultimately owns his career.”
To that end, while there’s no one right way to plan and effect a divisional transfer within a company, there are a handful of steps that most experts advise taking. Before formally setting the wheels in motion, employees should meet privately with their own direct supervisor and their prospective supervisor. “The last thing you want is for [a manager] to find out in a meeting when you aren’t there. That stinks of sneakiness, and being surprised by the news makes them look bad in front of their peers,” says Spense.
Concerns about the effect of a potential job switch within a company — especially its effect on the individual’s current manager — are not overblown, Spense adds. He says, however, that there are few solutions beyond the obvious ones, which is to communicate early and often. “Let them know that it’s not personal, that it’s just an opportunity that interests you and that you want to learn more about it,” he recommends. If the manager still chafes, it’s time to check with other employees who have made a similar move to see if the relationship is reparable. Some managers, for better or worse, view the search for a new job as the professional equivalent of infidelity.
Employees should arrive at these meetings with a detailed plan about succession in the current job, about goals and skills that would serve them well in the new one. Says Jared Friedman, who recently transitioned from a marketing strategy job to a sales/business development one at Blue Fountain Media, “It is important to prove that it isn’t something that is just off the cuff.”
Other tips that have served Battaglia and others well relate to everything from navigating the political minefield (couch any/all transfer requests in the interest of professional development, even if the true reasons have more to do with boredom or personality) to post-transition follow-up (once you’ve transitioned, stay transitioned but be sure not to leave a mess of unfinished work behind in your wake). Similarly, experts recommend collecting as much information as humanly possible — about relationships, expectations, team dynamics, leadership styles and anything else that others are willing to share. “Go in with your eyes wide open,” Battaglia stresses. And if all else doesn’t lead you to an obvious decision, well, go with your gut. “It is unlikely to steer you wrong,” says Lynda Zugec, managing director of The Workforce Consultants.
There is risk, no doubt – “developmental lateral moves don’t fit neatly on a resume,” acknowledges Joanne Cleaver, author of The Career Lattice, but the rewards in terms of personal satisfaction and career evolution outweigh it.