Climbing the corporate lattice

Perhaps the days of the linear corporate ladder are coming to an end. Today, career success is measured and achieved differently.

Perhaps the days of the linear corporate ladder are coming to an end.  Today, career success is measured and achieved differently.


For as long as I can remember, career movement has been defined as "climbing the corporate ladder." The ladder starts at the bottom and ends somewhere in the executive office. The ladder metaphor doesn't have the most positive connotations, bringing to mind one person stepping on the fingers on another person who is hanging to the rung just below. I believe the single-minded quest for reaching the top of "the ladder" has meant a lot of lost opportunities for people. While reaching only for the prize at the top, you forget to look at lateral opportunities that may be more fulfilling.

I also know a lot of people who judge themselves by their proximity to the CEO and nothing else. Their goal is to get closer as quickly as possible without sometimes developing the skills that could ensure they stay there.

The linear approach to career success suggested by the ladder may also be on its way to becoming outmoded. Already, social engineering sites are being used to greater advantage than the old "friends in high places" approach. People using LinkedIn are not reaching out only to those with more important corporate positions -- they're reaching out to peers and to those they know in entry-level positions.

Cathy Benko, vice chairwoman and chief talent officer for Deloitte L.L.P, has coined a new term that I hope will take root: the corporate lattice. In a piece for The New York Times, Benko described her concept this way:

Our approach provides a framework for organizations and their people to know their options, make choices and agree on trade-offs in four career dimensions — pace, workload, location/schedule and role — ensuring that value is created for both employer and employee. It acknowledges that workers’ priorities change over time. In essence, it replaces the corporate ladder with a lattice, encouraging adaptability and a longer view.

In a way, success itself is being redefined. It's no longer the 1950s, where success was sometimes defined by salary and job perks alone. Now it's defined in flex time, benefits, autonomy, etc. Makes you wonder what affect the concept of the corporate lattice will have on blind ambition?


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.


I never liked the idea of corporate ladders or pyramids for the very reasons you gave. It does promote binary thinking; you either succeed, or you fail. The problem with "advancement" in the work place is; people make choices based on their needs and what's available. Most of us would never move as long as we were making enough money for our wants, getting enough recognition for our work, and enough vacation time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Havign been in every position in a business from the new, wet-behind the ears newbie to being the general manager in charge of the entire branch, I much prefer NOT being in the top manager position; and rather be on one of the side branches as the "go-to guy" for advice and work on projects. One of the saddest things is working your tail off for a couple of decades to make it to the top only to find out that while you can do the job, it's really no fun.

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