This article accompanies Lattice vs. Ladder
Lattice career strategies are nothing new, but until recently, they were usually adopted for high-potential employees rather than throughout an organization.
The idea probably goes back to the first CEO who started out by sweeping floors, but 30 years ago, lateral moves were being promoted as tools for employees and employers, according to Beverly Kaye's book, Up is Not the Only Way, which was updated and republished in 2001.
Kaye, CEO of Career Systems International, predicted that organizations would be faced with "a rapidly changing environment, increased competitive pressure, pressures of globalization, swift and drastic economic shifts, as well as an exponential growth in the area of technology ... . The individuals in today's business environment must be dynamic and ready to take charge; they must take a business approach to planning their careers."
It's key, she said in a recent interview, for an organization to change its attitude toward lateral moves. "We used to say that if a company moves you more than three times laterally, then you'd better get out while the getting is good.
"Now, no organization, no matter how much they are growing, can still give vertical moves to every deserving person or even the ones who want [them]. You have to start thinking about multiple moves that a person can make to still feel successful," Kaye says.
Today, surveys are bearing out that employees want this strategy as well, even if they can't get a promotion or a pay increase.
In Towers Watson's recent Global Workforce Management study, 74 percent of responding employees said they were responsible for their own careers, but 57 percent said they didn't feel they could manage them, according to Jackie Greaner, North America practice leader of Towers Watson's Talent Management and Organizational Alignment, based in Atlanta. "If you want people to manage their careers, you have to give them the tools to do it."
Not that it's been easy in recent years. Climbing the corporate ladder has been tough. Despite a recent report by the independent National Bureau of Economic Research that the recession technically ended in June 2009, companies are only slightly more optimistic in their predictions of wage increases for 2011.
As a result, career development has become a retention and engagement driver, says Greaner.
The Towers Watson study also confirms the importance of retaining and developing employees: "Once you have somebody who has a good track record, they are a proven commodity," says Greaner. "A lot of people in [the] global workforce study said they want to stay in one or two companies their entire career. Individuals may want a perception of stability by staying with the same company, but they still want variety in their jobs."