A Lattice Is the Career Ladder for the 21st Century

I am giving you a heads-up as tomorrow I am resigning my position and going back to my old job, which I love. I hate this new job as I do not want to manage people. I just want to do my job and not have responsibility for all these people.

That conversation was passed on to me and it made me think of a conversation with my daughter around career mobility. She told me she does not want to manage a team:

I am not looking for grabbing the next title. I am, not motivated by that. All I want to do is my job and learn and develop. I do not want to be side-tracked being someone’s manager.

The lattice career model

There must be a better way. Our workplace isn’t what it used to be; it will never revert to what it used to be. All preconceived notions and traditional policies are under stress to realign with the new world of work. The proverbial ladder, which meant that you had to move into a managerial role to move up in the organization, is long past its prime. That concept is outdated as there will be fewer hierarchical layers going forward. The future workplace will be more virtual, more collaborative, team, and project based.

The lattice is the more relevant model for today’s work.Click To Tweet The traditional corporate ladder, firmly rooted in the industrial era, proffers a one-size-fits-all view of the world of work. The lattice model is better suited for today’s global business environment. It provides a framework to scale options for how careers are built, how work is done, and how participation is fostered.

Managing is not for everyone

Everyone does not want to manage people. This whole “boss concept” is not for everyone. My brother started in sales after college and literally broke all sales records for his company. His firm repeatedly asked him to move into a sales manager role, and he consistently refused. Finally they just gave up and let him be himself, which is a sales master. He told me that, “Managing people is not a skill set I have nor do I want.”

The corporate lattice model offers all workers a strategic approach to careers. It does this by making the most of the shifting landscape; by recognizing that there is no longer a universal view of success, but rather a multiplicity of ways to grow and contribute. Today’s workforce is challenging traditional models that pit high performance and career / life fit as opposing forces. This method delivers a more individualized and engaging work experience.

Good for the worker and the organization

The lattice signals the end of traditional assumptions about what it takes to achieve and sustain a high-performance organization. If you think about the adaptability that is required in today’s marketplace — being more agile and flexible — it gives you many more ways to do that. This gives a workforce more options in terms of how careers are built, how work gets done, and in fact, on how we each participate in the organization.

So this new model is not just a proxy for career development or career pathways. It is certainly part of the equation, but the whole way that we interact in organizations today is a lattice. Careers are going to zig and zag. I know that mine has and that is the new reality. That’s just the way it’s going to be.

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The VUCA effect

If we consider how all the trends, from technology to family structures, to women, to generations, to the flattening of hierarchies, and the like, all fit together, the old ways of work are just not sustainable. It is like trying to going back to the ways of work that are literally as outmoded as the fax machine. The old workplace just does not exist anymore.

There’s no question that there are trade-offs we each need to make. Today there are many measures of success, whether it be managing a team or department or having the option to be an individual contributor. We each have our own sort of success model. It’s not one size fits all. Our individual models of success are less tied to the traditional worldview of prestige and rewards and power and information access.

We are much more in a realm of “How do I fit the individual components of my life, and what I want to achieve in terms of my professional success, my personal success, my community involvement, how do I fit them altogether? And do it in a way that is much more fluid, as we move through different stages of our career?”

The lattice concept provides a more adaptive response. It opens wider the aperture of what success looks like, and where the value and contribution is.

Be your own person and you will always find your success.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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