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Employee Engagement Career Pathing Career Mobility

Career Lattices: A New Approach to an Old Challenge

By HRSG Team on May, 11 2022

Article table of contents (jump to section):

  1. The career ladder: Good, but not great
  2. The career lattice: An agile, employee-friendly approach
  3. Comparing career lattices and ladders
  4. Your opportunity awaits

Organizations have arguably dealt with some of the most difficult and tumultuous times during the pandemic and are now focusing on defining the new normal relating to how and where work will be done, including remote, in-person, or hybrid options.

Just when you thought there was some reprieve in the forecast, a new, and possibly even bigger challenge—the Great Resignation, or the Great Reset—has arrived with a vengeance. A recent survey commissioned by Allstate Canada found that 55% of working respondents had thought about looking for a new job in the last six months. Now, even more than ever, companies must be mindful of the workforce practices they are implementing, and how these will help ensure they can attract, retain, and engage the qualified and talented workforce needed both today and tomorrow.

It is clearly an employee’s market today, with little sign of that changing any time soon. Employees have multiple options available to them, and, coming out of the pandemic, they are now taking a long, hard look in the mirror and asking themselves: “Is this the job/ company/ boss that I want? And if not, what am I going to do about it?”


The career ladder: Good, but not great

To support this reset, organizations are looking to adapt to the changing needs of employees just to keep them. Sure, everyone needs to have a competitive salary to survive, and this will not change. But organizations cannot simply rely on increased salaries and expect to solve their retention challenge. Employees need flexibility and transparency. They need workplaces that foster trust, physical, mental, and psychological safety and wellbeing. They need career growth and development opportunities. If the list looks overwhelming, that’s because it is.

One traditional challenge that organizations are facing is facilitating enhanced opportunities for development and career growth. Historically, organizations implemented hierarchical career ladders in each functional area. This worked in a large, hierarchical, organizations where employees could see a defined pathway and potential timeline for rising to the top of the functional silo.

But, what about the needs of today’s employees? What about the needs of the business? Employees may define opportunities for growth and development differently based on their needs, and their expectations regarding career growth often change based on their stage of life and many other evolving factors.

Rather than waiting for managers to define specific career paths, employees want to be in the driver's seat, and they are looking to their organizations to provide them with helpful tools and resources that allow them to navigate their personal career choices.


The career lattice: An agile, employee-friendly approach

As employees become more self-motivated and seek greater career flexibility, the "career lattice" is rapidly replacing the traditional career ladder as a means of connecting them to a wider range of opportunities within the organization.

The career lattice is a new approach to career progression that promotes movement in multiple directions - lateral, diagonal and down, as well as vertical. This approach promotes greater flexibility and choice, replacing traditional vertical career ladders with a more diverse range of multi-directional moves. Because this type of latticed movement allows employees to explore career paths that extend across different disciplines, departments, or business units, the resulting approach is often called "career pathing."

Because career pathing encourages greater flexibility, employees can more confidently embark on new directions, knowing that their career can continue to evolve in step with their interests, skills, and competencies. It is an agile, and nimble approach where employees can "choose their own career adventure" within their current organization, enabling greater opportunities for continued growth and development. Not only is a career lattice beneficial for employees, but companies also benefit by providing employees with the opportunity to move cross-functionally, thereby enhance their overall competency development in ways that may not be possible working in a one function.

The objective is to enhance career mobility options in your organization so employees don’t have to leave to find their next role.


Comparing career lattices and ladders

The chart below outlines how the career lattice compares to the traditional career ladder approach to career pathing.

  Career Ladder Career Lattice

Answers the Questions

What is the career path in my function? What roles will I assume as I progress in my career?

What roles can I consider today based on my interests, skills, and competencies?

Career Progression is…

Vertical, with rigid, linear progressions and defined roles and timelines

Multi-directional, with vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and downward movements supported

Career Possibilities are…

Limited to one functional area or department

Broadly distributed cross-departmentally and cross-functionally

Underlining Philosophy

Company owns the employee's career path

Employees own their own career paths

Best Depiction



Photo by Sudan Ouyang on Unsplash



Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Foundational Assumptions

Career progression is synonymous with promotions (and getting a bigger pay cheque)

Employees desire vertical movement in the same function/ departments

Most employees want to advance to leadership roles (vs. remain technical specialists)

Employees want to continuously learn and grow. Vertical movement (and additional money) is not the primary motivator for employees

Employees like having the ability to choose their own career pathway

Employees want to choose between a specialist and a leadership pathway

Employees want non-traditional career paths, across functional silos, based on competencies, skills, and interests

The more career options there are, the better


Your opportunity awaits

There is no greater success than to inspire, grow and develop employees to achieve their career goals. Enabling a career lattice provides a win-win scenario for your company. On the one hand, employees will become raving fans because they see that you value, support, and facilitate career development, and on the other hand, increased talent mobility leads to a more responsive, flexible, and skilled workforce.

The choice is yours, and it is simple one. You can do what you can to enable career mobility and watch your employees stay and thrive, or you can maintain the status quo and watch them leave to achieve their dreams somewhere else.

Learn how to design and launch a career path in your organization. Download "The 2022 Definitive Guide to Career Pathing," a new eBook from HRSG’s expert consultants.

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