This is not a post aimed to revisit all the principles of conscious career development. This is a post about a nasty trick used by some employers to retain valuable people - by providing them a mirage of what they expect. This is a post about horizontal promotions (HPs).

What is an HP?

HP happens when an employee gets officially 'promoted' (in organizational position ladder/hierarchy), while the following conditions are met:

  • the new position's title is more attractive (more respected, makes an impression of increased importance)
  • there's a financial gain (salary increase or other perks), potentially even a substantial one
  • it's accompanied by company-specific privileges - intangible but prestigious and scarce (there are very few ways to gain them) - e.g., parking space, badge color, bigger room, +500 USD to work laptop budget, ...
  • ... and that's about it, nothing else changes - specifically: autonomy, responsibility, expectations, and "impact/influence zone" do not change AT ALL

A beneficiary (or a "victim"?) of HP celebrates for a moment, gets a ton of congratulations on LinkedIn, plunges in the splendor and jealousy of colleagues, and ... returns to work - exactly the same work as before.

What's wrong with that?

In theory: nothing. The individual just got measurably appreciated. The salary has been bumped up, the 'upgraded' job title sounds more impressive, the expectations didn't change - sounds like a great deal, doesn't it? Well, yes, there are pros, but the career development factor is neglected:

  1. there are no new challenges (to spur the individual development)
  2. there's no real progression, so the satisfaction is "shallow" for anyone with a growth mindset (in fact - there's a chance it will suppress such a mindset!)
  3. if your goals don't stretch you enough, lurking boredom is likely to manifest itself; don't underestimate its effects: bore-out can be equally dangerous to burn-out

Fortunately, detecting HPs is very simple: all it requires is a bit of self-awareness and being honest with yourself:

  • Where have you been three, two, a year ago, and how does it compare to where you are now?
  • After the last promotion: what has REALLY changed for you? How much do these things matter (to you, not the environment around)?
  • Do you know and understand the progression options in your career path? Is it somehow clarified/documented? Who owns this 'contract'?
  • Your mentors and other more experienced, senior colleagues - what was their past career path - did the employer provide them valuable career options tailored for their skills, potential, and aspirations?


If you're wondering - no, I don't mind someone having a fixed mindset. I realize that such a person can be fully satisfied with an HP. But even in such a case - why all this circus? (with titles and pretending that something other than a paycheck has changed)

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