Climbing the Corporate Lattice


Cathy Benko, the Chief Talent Officer for Deloitte L.L.P., recently wrote an article in the New York Times about the “corporate ladder” and how it is an out-dated metaphor.  The notion of the career ladder is so ingrained in many of us that it is startling to think it just doesn’t apply the way it used to.  Cathy cites an increase of women in the workforce balancing families and careers, and a shift from baby boomers to Generation X and Y who are more willing to explore less traditional career paths.

The convergence of these talent trends is producing a huge change in behavior that’s sawing away at the corporate ladder, blurring the relationship between work and life and redefining what it means to build a career.

At Deloitte, Cathy and her colleagues have replaced the ladder metaphor with the lattice.  She says:

Lattices allow movement in many directions.  Like the literal lattices you see in gardens, these are living platforms for growth with upward momentum visible along many paths – a much closer depiction than a ladder of how today’s careers are build and talent is developed.

I love this metaphor and believe it is much more appropriate for today’s workplace.  The demographic trends driving this change are also having a major impact on how companies approach leadership development.  It used to be, leadership development was all about helping employees climb from one rung to the next.  Now, it is more important to think about what experiences and knowledge is required to move employees across, over and up their career lattice.  The moves employees make are dependent on many factors, including personal preference, family and location.  To attract and retain the best talent, we need to embrace the lattice and throw out the ladder.

1 comment

  • Sean, Congrats on starting your blog! Cathy’s metaphor is accurate and timely. My own company, ALUMRISE, is built around the premise that careers will climb up, down and sideways not just inside an enterprise, but also outside its doors. While people stop working every day, minds don’t stop working. Organizations and individuals need better, flexible connections and contribution methods, for all work life stages and ALUMRISE provides a platform that can help. Cathy’s efforts to promote this new metaphor are commendable because as organizations buy into the theory, they also will start to implement the most relevant “corporate lattice” solutions.

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