A career lattice gives employees a chance to learn and grow by taking on new roles in a company that are not purely promotions.
Today’s workplaces differ from those of years past. Why? One reason is the concept of the career lattice — it’s catching on. Beyond even the ever-more-common ability to work from home, team members are fueling their career growth in ways that are much different than those that had come before.
Instead of choosing to move only into roles that are promotions, many team members these days move laterally, across departments. Career success and professional growth are less about climbing the career ladder. What’s happening is better described as a career lattice.
So, just what is a career lattice, how does it differ from the traditional ladder, what are the benefits, and how can companies change their organizational structures to support employees who want to lattice? Read on to find out.
What is a career lattice?
The main objective in the familiar, traditional corporate ladder structure was upward career movement. But these days, many team members advance their careers by moving into new roles that are lateral or diagonal from their original role. When team members move into other roles that aren’t necessarily promotions, those moves are often part of a career lattice model.
many team members advance their careers by moving into new roles that are lateral or diagonal from their original role. When team members move into other roles that aren’t necessarily promotions, those moves are often part of a career lattice model.
How career lattices differ from career ladders
Career development can happen in ladder ways or in lattice ways — and sometimes in both — over the course of someone’s career development. But looking more deeply, there are some key differences in the way corporate lattices and ladders are structured and function:
- Their focus. While a career ladder focuses on raises, a career lattice focuses on offering upskilling and on fostering employee engagement.
- Their motivating factors. A corporate ladder motivates by the promise of a promotion; a corporate lattice motivates by allowing team members to learn new things by doing the work that most interests them.
Benefits of career lattices
Even though a corporate ladder is the traditional standard for measuring high performance, the newer corporate lattice model offers several distinct benefits.
- Makes flexible options available. Talent development doesn’t have to be upwardly mobile to be effective. Team members may be intrigued by the ability to learn a new skill or by participating in an interesting project that’s not available in their current department. The career lattice structure offers them the flexibility to pursue these paths without stunting their careers.
- Enhances cross-department collaboration. If team members are able to move across departments, as they are in the lattice model, they are able to create more relationships throughout the company. These cross-departmental relationships help the company as a whole by breaking down silos and fostering stronger communication and greater cohesion among employees.
- Reduces team member boredom and disengagement. Lack of employee engagement can zap your company’s productivity. But if team members are able to work on projects and initiatives that interest them, instead of solely focusing on climbing the next rung up the ladder, they are generally happier and more motivated.
- Offers fresh perspectives. If the same people stay in the same roles, their ideas may get stale or redundant. If companies foster a culture in which employees switch teams, new life can be breathed into brainstorming sessions and idea creation.
- Helps keep high performers. High performance talent is hard to replace. It’s smart to take steps to keep your A-team players; that’s one reason why the career lattice structure works well. If your team members have more options for their career progression, they’ll stay more engaged and motivated in their jobs. In addition, their ability to establish cross-departmental relationships weaves them into the fabric of the company’s culture. This makes them less likely to want to leave.
How to promote career lattices
Managers can actively push the career lattice concept and give top performers additional opportunities for career progression. An organization that wants to foster the career lattice structure to maintain employee satisfaction and move the company forward can take these actions:
- Share opportunities internally. Set up a way to communicate positions that are open throughout the company. Internal newsletters, announcements in company meetings, and old-school bulletin board notices in the breakroom help keep employees aware of jobs in other departments.
- Create a current employee interview process. Start an honest conversation with the team member/candidate about their current performance and what the new role entails. Discuss their expectations and a transition plan.
- Address compensation. Salary ranges, bonus structures, and other pay opportunities can vary wildly across departments. Be transparent about any differences in pay. Also, be sure to note whether the new role will come with a raise.
- Plan for training and development. What skills will the team member need to learn and develop to succeed in the new role? Make a proactive plan for the employee to get training either outside the company, with the new manager, or both.
Modern workplaces (and modern employees, too) are moving away from the concept of having their employees climb the corporate ladder. That concept is being replaced by employees’ navigation of the corporate lattice. By using the lattice structure, employers are more likely to create a happy, engaged workforce that is committed to the company and is less likely to leave for other opportunities.
Learn more about what employees think and feel about the workplace through employee engagement surveys. They can be a helpful tool to solicit feedback from your workforce, get employees more engaged, and fuel change and direction at your firm. Zenefits offers a free best practices eBook on engagement surveys.