I ran across this quote from the most recent HR Technology Conference and Expo:
“Careers in the Future of Work: The old career model is over. Goodbye career ladder. Hello career lattice.”
Like the “generalist versus specialist” debate, there’s no need to argue about career ladder versus lattice. Both career ladders and lattices have always existed. Neither are new. And they are both important. Employees need to have flexibility in order to achieve their career goals. That’s where these options come in.
Career ladders have always been viewed as “moving up” in the organization. Career lattices also involve moving up, but sometimes they involve a lateral move. Or maybe moving downward on the organizational chart so, at a later point in time, there’s a straight path up. Both focus on helping employees achieve their career goals.
We also can’t make the assumption that career lattices take longer than career ladders. On the surface, it would seem plausible that while making a lateral move within a career lattice does give the employee new skills and experiences that it would also make the process longer. But then again, it’s possible that promotional opportunities on a traditional career ladder can get bogged down by company politics making that process longer as well.
In thinking about these options, I’m not sure that’s where the change needs to happen. Both do the same thing by helping an employee achieve their career goals. One isn’t necessarily faster than another. Why do employees have to be restricted to one type of career model? Employees might be focused on career lattices during their early career, then shift to a career ladder at mid-career. Maybe then back to a career lattice later in their career.
When it comes to career ladders and career lattices, what needs to change is on the company side. Organizations need to do a better job of defining career ladders and lattices in their career management strategies. Managers – both inside and outside of HR – should be trained on how to have career ladder and lattice conversations with employees. And most importantly, organizations should support employees regardless of whether they’re choosing the ladder or the lattice. Here are three specific actions that organizations can consider:
- Identify the “career ladder” and “career lattice” move for each position. Many organizations already know the career ladder next move for job positions in their organization. The question is “Are there some ideal career lattice next moves?” Maybe it’s not just one, but there could be several.
- Re-examine learning and development opportunities. Often organizations have pre-defined requirements for employees to participate in development programs. That’s great for career ladder programs. To support a career lattice, maybe those requirements need to be adjusted.
- Re-evaluate compensation. Again, many organizations have a compensation structure in place for employees who are moving up using the traditional career ladder. But what about career lattice? Employees are taking the lateral move to advance their career and that benefits the company in the long run.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the traditional career ladder. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have another option with the career lattice. For employees to use it successfully, the company needs to define it well, support both models, and give employees choices. That’s how we create careers that employees want in the future workplace.
Image capture by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World21