Climb the ladder or cross the lattice?

October 28, 201610:45 am679 views
Climb the ladder or cross the lattice?
Is up the only way forward in the corporate world? Increasingly, the answer isn’t always yes. HRM finds out more.

For many, the new year is a time to reassess the skills they have today, what they’d like to learn, and also, what type of job they’d like to do in the coming months and years.

There are a couple of directions employees can aim to move towards their ultimate goal. They can either climb the corporate ladder in the traditional sense or, alternatively, “lattice” their way to their desired job.

Latticing is a more flexible type of trajectory that offers multiple pathways for career growth, including upward, lateral and even downward moves – and it is becoming more common in the working world today. Cathy Benko, Vice Chairman of Deloitte, writes in The Corporate Lattice that the world is currently “at an inflection point”.

“The hierarchical corporate ladder is giving way to a multidimensional corporate lattice,” she says.

Companies are also looking more towards job rotations laterally across their organisations as a means to develop talent. Strategies include bigger scale, bigger scope, line-to-staff or staff-to-line switches, cross-moves (handling a very different set of activities across divisions, functions, or industries), internal start-ups, change management initiatives, and international assignments.

Changes in level, organisational unit, location, industry, and circumstances all help talent grow, says Boris Groysberg, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

“Ideally, job assignments will involve novelty and the need to adapt. The greater the change in scope and responsibility, the greater the learning,” he adds. “There is, however, a fine line between a challenging assignment and an overwhelming one.”

Assessing whether one wants to make a ladder or lattice move can be done systematically. “You would know if you are ready for a ladder move when you’re capably performing your current role, are happy with your current company, and are ready to step up to more responsibility and leadership,” Jo Miller, founding editor of Be Leaderly and CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, explains.

“But a lattice move might be worth considering if you want to network, gain skills, alter your long-term trajectory, or if you’re bored and ready for a new intellectual challenge.”

See: Do You Agree Employee Engagement Levels Drop During Organisational Change?

Working the corporate lattice

Lattice moves, or job rotations, can be great motivators and firms often use this strategy to develop high potentials. “Job rotations help the organisation to stretch talent and provide them opportunities outside their comfort zone,” says Gaurav Sharma, HR Director of Coca Cola Singapore. “This provides all-round exposure to various functions of the business, apart from also broadening repository of much needed skills-sets for the organisation.”

Coca Cola provides job-rotations for its management associates, improving cross-functional collaboration and helping these talents gain a deeper and faster understanding of how the organisation operates.

“The associates are provided with a specific project in each of the functional rotations wherein they are mentored by the functional leaders and senior managers,” Sharma explains. “Towards the end of the one-year programme, we allocate them to their respective functions armed with the skills-sets and exposure they have acquired through working with different functions and teams.”

Job rotation at Fuji Xerox Singapore is a feature of the two-year commercial associate programme, targeted at high-potential graduates with less than two years’ work experience.

“The programme is designed to nurture these individuals to excel in their performance and fast-track their development through a combination of classroom training, on-the-job training, special projects and stretched assignments,” says Pauline Chua, general manager of human capital and corporate social responsibility.

“It provides them with opportunities to not just develop their leadership and interpersonal skills but also their business acumen and technical expertise,” she explains. “We’ve had five batches of commercial associates since 2008, where their exposure to different job roles have positioned them well for progression within Fuji Xerox.”

Pitfalls of the lattice

Ultimately, if employers need staff to have multiple job skills, using job rotations as a reward for good performance can result in a more productive and happier workplace. Yet, job rotations are costly, and time-consuming, so they should be chosen with care.

Also, the potential downfalls of moving laterally across an organisation include the risk that the process can become an unintentional “cure” for job burnout, or other outside issues.

“Job rotations need to be seen separately from short-term assignments, which are normally provided to professionals who have acquired expertise in their function and whereby this expertise is to be deployed in a different working geography,” says Sharma.

“You do need strong mentoring and guidance from respective functional leaders as employees go through their learning phases and learn the new job role basics before they start contributing.”

“Finally, the job rotation needs to be decided in sync with the individual employee’s aspirations.”

Chua believes that job rotation can provide a new career path and encourage the development of new skills and capabilities for individual employees. “This is a good thing, and helps to develop and retain talent in the organisation,” she says. “It promotes learning agility and may even give employees a new lease of life.”

At Fuji Xerox, an employee who is rotated to a new area of work is considered similar to a new joiner to the organisation. “They would need to be inducted into the new role and its related work processes,” she explains. “Thus, to ensure the rotated employee successfully transits into the new role, line managers need to ensure that they get access to essential resources such as information, technology and training.”

“In addition, rotations that are aligned to both the career aspirations of the individual employees and the business needs of the organisation not only save time but also costs in the long run.”

To move or not to move?

According to Jo Miller, founding editor of Be Leaderly and CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, staff might want to consider a lattice move if:

  • They love their work, but don’t love their boss.

“If the boss is putting a lid on your career development, don’t stay too long. You’ll do much better with a boss that’s supportive. The same goes for working in a toxic team culture or for a company that doesn’t value its employees.”


  • Their life outside work takes precedence.

“If you’re in a phase where family, balance or other needs are simply more important than your career, a lattice move can help you manoeuver into a role that better supports your current situation.”


  • Their job leads into a career dead-end.

“If you’re on a path with limited opportunities to grow, consider a sideways move into an area with more potential for future advancement.


  • They aspire to become a general business leader, not a subject-matter specialist.

“Moving laterally can broaden your exposure to different functional areas or business divisions, furnishing your résumé for future business leadership positions.”


Keeping it fresh

At Coca Cola, talents spend a minimum of 18 months in their original positions before making a change laterally.

“Other job opportunities are opened up through a process wherein we open vacancies internally for employees from other teams to apply for job roles they want to move towards,” says Gaurav Sharma, HR Director, Coca Cola Singapore.

The article first appeared on HRM Asia


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