Longing for Change: Empowering Horizontal Ambition in a Flat Organization

From lean start-ups to intricate enterprises, flat and open structures have become the new gold-standard for the modern organization. But while flat structure comes with significant perks (employee empowerment, transparency and engagement to name a few), it definitely presents challenges when thinking traditionally about career growth.

We usually think of career advancement as a straight line. But in a flat organization like DevFacto, we foster another approach: horizontal career growth.

In his article on the subject, William Craig explains that: “Vertical growth has a tendency to focus on flashy new job titles. Horizontal growth, meanwhile, is a way to create value. It says a lot about American corporate culture that people get hung up on titles instead of focusing on what’s really important: Expanding our knowledge.”

Horizontal ambition is a great way to support a lean organization while encouraging team members to become master craftspeople. As DevFacto consultant Winnie Ho shares in her story below, a career coaching program built specifically for flat organizations is a great way to foster horizontal growth.

“One day late in the afternoon about two years ago, in front of me on the screen was yet another half finished SharePoint master page. Looking at that page of SharePoint controls, I could not help but felt stuck. It was probably the 100th master page I had created since I joined DevFacto more than six years ago. I had been the resident SharePoint user experience designer who designed and developed most master pages at DevFacto for the longest time.

Design and SharePoint could not give me satisfaction that they used to anymore. Deep down I knew I needed a change — a career pivot to be a custom software developer instead.”

The Road to Transformation

Winnie Ho navigates DevFacto’s flat organizational structure through horizontal career growth.

“As I embarked on the journey to be a full-time developer, I was immediately hit with reality. Although I did not need to start from scratch as I have a computer science degree, it was still overwhelming. It has been years since I did serious development — think when ASP.NET web form was new and using MS Access as database was cool. Almost everything was foreign. I constantly felt that I was lagging behind a train going full steam ahead. The toughest time was the transition period when I needed to work on both design/SharePoint related projects and custom development work. Despite my best efforts to absorb the new things that I learned in my free time, it was difficult to retain the knowledge because I just could not get enough practice.

Around the same time, DevFacto started the Career Coaching Program. I was skeptical at first, thinking to myself, ‘I’m a pretty independent person. I do not need anyone else to tell me what to do. I just need to put myself into it.’ I could not have been more wrong.”

A Good Friend Who Listens

“Being coached is not like sitting in a lecture listening to your professor teach. My coach is like a friend who is a good listener. He helps me understand that I am not alone in feeling like an impostor. I am extremely quiet and it takes a long time for me to warm up to someone and talk about my problems. My coach is very patient and listens to my (sometimes incoherent) rants. He shares his stories on how he feels like a phony sometimes too, how he handles the issue, and that it is okay to feel like an impostor because that is how we grow — we take on a bit more than we can chew and realize just how much we do not know. Then we handle the challenge and move on to the next big thing.”

Dedicated Time for Progress

“Being able to meet — or Skype in my case — with my coach once every few weeks also gives me chance to reflect on the things that I worked on for the past few weeks, and to think about what I would like to learn next. My coach gives me honest feedback on how I am doing, and helps me come up with a plan to achieve my goals.”

An Ally in the Field

“Another important way that my coach helped me is coordinating with management to facilitate change. When I am not being assigned projects that will build my desired skill sets, or when I cannot get dedicated training time, my coach acts on my behalf and relays my thoughts to management so that I can focus on maturing as a developer. He also gives me ideas on what I can do to market myself as a developer instead of a designer.”

A Way to Go, But Not a Lonely Road

“I am by no means a great developer yet. Learning will never end and challenges will keep coming. However, with the support and encouragement of my career coach, I will be able to move forward faster with more confidence.”

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