From Ladder to Lattice: Career Advice for Forward-Thinking Companies

[tweetmeme]I was reminded of one of my favorite books, “Mass Career Customization: Aligning Today’s Workforce with Today’s Nontraditional Workforce,” by a recent article in which the author listed his 10 worst business books of all time.

In my view, “Mass Career Customization” is one of the best business books ever published, garnering awards when it was first published three years ago.  Since then, social media has spawned many changes in how employees communicate with each other and manage their careers.  Companies have lost much control of their key messages to employees, not to speak of customers.

"Climbing the corporate lattice"

Climbing the corporate lattice

I just went through the book again, which I had filled with many yellow highlights, and it holds up even better on second reading for precisely the reason that social media and the depressed economy have changed everything about how we live, work and view our careers.

The Corporate Lattice

For those who don’t have time to read the book, there is an excellent summary on Deloitte’s website, as the authors, Cathy Benko and Ann Weisberg, work there.  Here is the key premise:

“…we see the corporate ladder model for career progression already giving way to what we term the corporate lattice. In mathematics, a lattice ladder allows one to move in many directions, is not limited to upward or downward progress, and can be repeated infinitely at any scale. In the real world, lattices are living platforms for growth, with upward momentum visible along many paths. The corporate lattice model of career progression allows for multiple paths upward taking into account the changing needs of both the individual and the organization across various intervals of time.”

They give a number of examples of how this works, such as the former Marine with an MBA who stayed home for three years with his children.  He didn’t get off the career ladder, he simply went sideways for a while, in a lattice movement.  The lattice model, which Deloitte has adopted, is an example of employee engagement at its best.

Gen Y Workers Would Stay Put

“Even Gen Y workers, who have a reputation for being fickle, would actually rather stay with one organization if that organization delivered on its commitments and allowed them to grow and contribute” on their terms with the support of their company, say Benko and Weisberg, .

There are too many gems to include in this post.  I hope I have piqued your interest and you will go to Mass Customization to learn more.

Oh, in case you’re interested, here is the other list I referred to “The 10 Worst Business Books of All Time” by Geoffrey James on BNET.  He gives his reasons in the article, but I’ll simply list them here and you can decide if you agree with him.

#10: Reengineering the Corporation

#9: Jesus CEO

#8: The Fifth Generation

#7: Radical E

#6: Countdown Y2K

#5: Dow, 30,000 by 2008

#4: The Leadership Genius of George W. Bush

#3: In Search of Excellence

#2: Corporate Magick

#1: Leadership secrets of Attila the Hun

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  1. I wonder if that Marine was a woman would she have been considered off the ladder or just moving sideways on the lattice. I am intrigued by your review of this book. I think I have to check it out.

  2. Interesting question about whether the marine was a woman. If she was with Deloitte it wouldn’t have mattered — lattice is meant for women and men.

  3. Many thanks for high praise of Mass Career Customization in your blog. The idea behind the book (co-authored with my colleague, Anne Weisberg) was to help organizations in 3 ways: Recognize the sweeping–and converging–workforce trends that are shattering the industrial-age corporate ladder model; Call attention to the emergence of the information-age “corporate lattice” model; And to introduce a new tool (MCC) designed to help navigate careers in a lattice world.

    As for how MCC is progressing at Deloitte, well it’s now been rolled out to Deloitte LLP’s entire workforce—45,000 or so. We are very pleased with how its distinguishing us by (among many other measures) improving satisfaction with career-life fit, as well as satisfaction with the quality of the career counseling conversations—based on input from both the individual and the manager. More deails can be found in Workforce Management and

    Having enjoyed the MCC book, you may also enjoy the latest book (HBRP, August 2010), The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work, co-authored with another top-notch colleague, Molly Anderson. It is somewhat a prequel to MCC, exploring all the contours of the lattice model organized into 3 “lattice ways”—lattice ways to build careers from straight up to zig-zag, lattice ways to work from where you go to what you do, and lattice ways to foster participation from top-down to all-in.

    Congratulations on all you have accomplished, Jeannette. My best to you (and luv your title, Chief)…