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Is the Corporate "Lattice" in Place at Your Job?

In The Corporate Lattice," the follow-up book to 2007's "Mass Career Customization," Cathleen Benko, a top executive at Deloitte LLP, adapts her big idea of a multi-directional career path for a variety of employers.

As Benko explained in a recent HBR podcast, career advancement is becoming multidimensional -- supporting movement up, down and sideways. That's in marked contrast to the traditional "ladder" image, on which you move either up or off.

But in a post-recession economy, an organization can be flat in a good, latticey way -- or it can be flat because it collapsed. How can you assess your workplace to figure out if and how to apply the lattice to your career? I interviewed "The Corporate Lattice" co-author and Deloitte talent manager Molly Anderson to find out.

To be sure, there are long-term demographic and cultural shifts that seem to support the lattice construct of career advancement. Greater self-determination, flexibility and choices are career goals for just about everyone -- especially millennials. But as the economy rebuilds, employers seem much more concerned with short-term productivity. Are they even willing to think about long-term strategies like the lattice?
There's a growing recognition that this is a way to get to higher levels of productivity and profitability. One telecommunications company, for example, moved many of its call-center agents to work from home. They became 25% more productive, and retention rose. And with salary budgets more constrained, companies are looking for non-monetary rewards.
How can you tell if your workplace is deliberately adopting a "flatter" structure or if it's just pancaking?
If they're still all about up, up, up, but there's no place to go -- due to the flatter structure -- they're not putting a lattice in place. Does the company have different options for growing so you can move across? Are there options to accelerate and decelerate growth? Can you see that "flat" is not a dead end? Is there only one view of what success is, or can you pursue a variety of options that position you for growth?

You have to take ownership of your options and adjust your strategy to navigate in all directions. Think in terms of multiple possible future positions for yourself. Can you get transferable skills? If you manage operational projects well, can you move over to manage projects in finance or human resources?

In the book, much is made of "functional flexibility." What's the difference between that and old-fashioned cross-training?
I think of cross-training as task oriented -- you learn parts of somebody else's job. Transferable skills are broader than that.

How have you applied lattice principles to your own career?
Yes. I started out as a computer programmer. Then I got an MBA at Stanford. I joined Deloitte, then I took time out to be with my children. Then I had my own consulting practice, in business operations. But I stayed in touch with Deloitte and came back full time, as a talent manager.

Morguefile image by Vilhelm.