5 Tips to Help You Descend the Corporate Ladder Gracefully

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Climb DownPerhaps you’ve been soaring in the corporate heavens for a few years now, and maybe you’re starting to find that things don’t look so great from 30,000 feet up anymore. Perhaps you flew a little too close to the sun? Maybe you are tired, you no longer enjoy the work, or you are out of your depth? Maybe you just want out: you want to dial it down a bit, take an easier, more engaging job, and get your groove back.

However, the problem with the current corporate career ladder is that it only goes one way. Sure, you can come down, but you can’t just neatly climb your way back to the bottom. You either have to jump off — without a parachute — fall off, or be pushed off. In any case, you generally hit the ground with a nasty thud.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and thankfully, things are starting to change. Cathy Benko, vice chairman and managing principal at Deloitte, has recently pioneered the term “career lattices,” which are posed as modern replacements for the one-way career ladder. In a career lattice, employees don’t have to jump off the career ladder when they find they don’t like their role. Instead, they can move left or right, up or down. In a carrer lattice, when individuals reach a point of incompetence, burnout, or disinterest, they can gracefully move back down to a more suitable role.

Such career flexibility is great, but we don’t all work for Deloitte, and most employers haven’t fully embraced or even heard of this concept just yet. This means that, if you are looking to descend the corporate ladder gracefully, you’ll most likely be the first to do so at your particular company. With that in mind, I’d like to offer some tips on how you can climb down the ladder without falling to your doom.

1. Be Brave

There’s no hiding from it: you’ll need to show some courage to abdicate your lofty position. But, as soon as you have made your plan for change, you’ll gain a sense of direction. As you start ticking off some milestones, you’ll feel that you are progressing toward your goals. You’ll be focused and galvanized, and the feelings of uncertainty will start to ebb away.

2. Use Positive Visualization 

Research such as the book Creative Visualizationby Alan Richardson and this article by Catherine Chadwick shows that positive visualization – the process of rehearsing, acting out, seeing, and visualizing success in your mind – can better prepare you to achieve goals. It can certainly help you achieve an especially difficult goal, such as climbing down a career ladder. Engage in positive visualization by visualizing what success might look like in 2-3 years and what you’ll do to achieve ultimate success next week, next month, next quarter, and so on. If you need help in engaging in positive visualization, just search the Internet. You’ll find plenty of step-by-step guides.

3. Speak to Your Manager

Your request to step down may take your manager by surprise, so it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting with them to explain your reasoning. You should also explain what might happen if you don’t make the change and why you think climbing down the corporate ladder will benefit you, your manager, and your organization. The most attractive benefit, of course, is that you will be more engaged and effective.

4. Try to Negotiate a Step-Down

You may want to speak to peers and coworkers and explain your plans. You may find that you are able to negotiate a step-down in role within the organization. If your manager is on your side, they may be able to help you with this.

5. Apply to the Open Market

If the previous negotiation step fails, you’ll simply have to apply for suitable, more junior-level jobs within your company’s internal job market or the external job market overall.

If you are going external, you’ll need to make a compelling case for your decision to seek a lower-level position to potential new employers. In a situation like this, I think that using a recruiter can be especially beneficial. If you can convince the recruiter of your authenticity and the soundness of your decision, they can act as a powerful ally and fight for you with skeptical corporate hiring teams.

By Kazim Ladimeji