People in open office
ATD Blog

No Way to Grow and Advance in a Flat Organization? Look Again.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Even if you work for a large company, it seems that the hierarchy is getting to be more like a step stool than a corporate ladder. Companies are removing the layers and reducing the steps between the frontline and the C-suite.

But, where does that leave you as a professional trying to move up, dealing with what appears to be fewer opportunities to grow? If flatter organization structures are the new reality, how can you expect to ever advance in your career?

Get Clarity

One of the biggest problems you can encounter is that you’re not even sure where you want to go in your career. You have a goal for moving up—but you haven’t given thought to what your career path should look like. You end up taking various jobs that are offered to you, which sometimes don’t lead to anywhere.

Getting clarity on what you want to do will help you seek out opportunities that can help you move toward your goal. This also will help you communicate your career goals to others, so that you will have allies who know how to help.

Change Your Mindset

Begin to think differently about your career. A career is more like a lattice or climbing wall than a ladder. Realize that you don’t have to move up to be advancing. Begin to look more broadly for opportunities that will strategically support your career goals.

Take Action

Don’t wait for someone to open the door for you—go knocking!

People sometimes focus on what they can’t get, and fail to see the opportunities around them . . . and miss out and slow their progress even more. Just because you’re not moving up doesn’t mean there are not opportunities for you to gain new experiences, learn, and grow.


Following are 20 questions that will challenge you and guide you in taking action toward discovering new ways to bring life to a flat, stagnant org structure.

In Your Current Job

  • Am I giving my best effort to my current job responsibilities, or am I too focused on moving to the next job?
  • What priorities does my boss have for our team? Are there areas to which I can contribute?
  • Have I taken the initiative to explore new ways of doing things, and to offer creative solutions to challenges we’re addressing?
  • Have I made connections to other parts of the company, engaging them in my work and learning more about different functions?
  • What skills am I not currently using that I can find ways to apply? What new skills could I develop?
  • What business challenges or opportunities could I help to solve?
  • What important initiatives and special projects are the company working on that I could raise my hand to get involved in?

Lateral Moves

  • What lateral moves can I make that are in line with where I want to go in my career?
  • Where do I need to gain broader or deeper business experience to help prepare me for future stages in my career?
  • What roles can help me develop new or different skills?
  • What are the areas of growth for the company where I can contribute and learn?

Volunteer Opportunities

  • Are there opportunities to help with the company’s community service projects where I can demonstrate, practice, and learn new skills?
  • How can I give back to community service organizations I’m passionate about where I can demonstrate, practice, and learn new skills?

Learning and Development Programs

  • Does the company offer learning and development programs that can help me build my professional, leadership, or technical skills?

Engage Your Network

  • Who are my allies and advocates whom I should inform about my career interests, and who would be willing to help me explore and exploit potential opportunities?
  • Do I have a mentor who can advise me on how best to manage my career within our company’s culture?

Outside the Company

  • Will a role outside of my current company provide experience that will help prepare me for my desired career path?
  • Where would a role at another company likely lead to next?

Be careful not to jump a flat ship too quickly; there may be more opportunities where you are than you think. It will take some work on your part. But, you owe it to yourself to explore your options to ensure you can give your best effort toward achieving your career goals.

About the Author

Vivian Blade, MBA, MBB, PMP, is a recognized leadership expert and thought leader. Following a successful 20-year corporate career with Fortune 100 companies Humana and GE, Vivian launched her current leadership consulting practice, applying her extensive business, finance, and leadership experience to coach and develop aspiring and established leaders in building high-performance, high-quality, and high-service level organizations. She also works in academia as adjunct faculty for the University of Louisville College of Business. Vivian is the author of two books, FuelForward: Discover Proven Practices to Fuel Your Career Forward, which reveals the unwritten rules to career success, and Resilience Ready: The Leader’s Guide to Thriving Through Unrelenting Crises. She is a contributor to two books published by the Association for Talent Development Find Your Fit: A Practical Guide to Landing a Job You'll Love, and Work the Problem: How Experts Tackle Workplace Challenges.

Vivian has served on the ATD International Conference & Exposition Program Advisory Committee, has presented conference workshops, has content featured in ATD webcasts, and a number of her articles are featured on She is also a member of the ATD Kentuckiana Chapter.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.