Scaling the Lattice or Clinging to the Ladder?

Posted by Andrew Liakopoulos on August 25, 2011

Few of us work the same way now as we did (or our parents did) over 20 years ago. Workplaces are moving away from the corporate ladder, with its top-down hierarchy, vertical career path and career versus life dilemma and toward a flatter, more collaborative, Corporate Lattice structure that offers more options for getting work done and defining a career. (See From ladder to lattice: The shift is on.)

I’m seeing this shift very clearly in the companies I work with, though these companies are dealing with the shift very differently. Some are proactive. They’re saying, “The demographics of our workforce have changed, technology is changing the way people work and people are managing their careers differently.” And they’re asking, “How can we address these changes and adjust our organization structure to this new reality?” They’re taking a holistic approach to better position their companies to take advantage of the lattice and help their people succeed in it.

Many of these proactive organizations are focusing on a few key areas. For one, they’re looking at how careers are developed and how people can move within the organization, using competencies as a focal point. Establishing competencies for various jobs and roles throughout the company help people understand what skills, proficiency levels and experiences are required for them to move throughout the company during the course of their career.

Another area of focus is having the right technology and tools in place to support a latticed work environment. The increased use of social media tools, such as instant messaging, is a good example. Proactive organizations are providing these tools to their employees, along with setting policies governing when and how it’s acceptable to use them. They’re also addressing the practice of working remotely, defining when it’s acceptable and not and adjusting performance metrics to focus on results over “face time.” This is becoming even more important as organizations become more matrixed and lines of reporting are more varied than in the past. Here again, competencies can help support matrixed organizations by making it more clear what it takes to be successful in one part of the organization versus another so that lateral moves can occur across the matrix.

In contrast to how proactive organizations are managing the shift from ladder to lattice, I also see companies that are, what I call, walking backwards into the future. They’re taking a piecemeal approach and reacting to the workplace realities of the lattice rather than addressing them head-on. So, for example, they see employees loading social media tools on their company-issued computers, or they see people working remotely without getting their manager’s approval and they deal with the situation as it happens. They are essentially being forced into the inevitability of a latticed environment, rather than embracing it and figuring out how to use it to their advantage. I believe this puts them at a distinct disadvantage over their more proactive counterparts.

Where is your organization? Are you scaling the lattice or clinging to the ladder? (And if it’s the latter, how long do you think you can hold on?)

Andrew Liakopoulos Andrew Liakopoulos is a principal in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP. He currently leads Deloitte’s National Talent Strategies practice and is leading Deloitte’s deployment of The Corporate Lattice and Mass Career Customization to the external marketplace.

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