Career Lattice

Many employees today won’t climb to the top; instead, they’ll move through a career lattice. Why? The rapid change of skills in the workplace, the move to alternative forms of employment, and the use of new methods of professional communication all require a different hierarchical structure and a revised process of advancement. Hence, the career lattice was born. But the fundamental demand for L&D will remain the same.  

What Is a Career Lattice?

A career lattice is a non-linear career pathway. Career lattices are easily understood when compared with career ladders. A career ladder involves an employee moving straight up through levels of their organization’s hierarchy. In contrast, a career lattice is based on the idea that, in the modern workplace, an employee might move horizontally at numerous points in their career. In fact, they might spend much of their time in several roles along the same hierarchical level, and may even move to lower levels.   

Ladder vs. Lattice

Career ladders made sense when most organizations produced physical goods and required different levels of management to get those products to market. In terms of hierarchy, many companies resembled a pyramid, with only a few people at the top.  Those at the bottom levels could gain experience, and, if they were talented, get promoted to production managers and other higher levels.

But two major changes in the world of work have disrupted this paradigm. 

The Dominance of External Recruitment

Companies have generally stopped recruiting from their pool of existing employees, going from a 90% internal hiring rate in the mid-70s to about 20% today. Similarly, large companies have moved towards flatter hierarchies, with the average organizational structure now 25% flatter than it was near the year 2000. What this means is that, to get promoted and receive a higher salary, most employees can no longer move up the ladder in their current organization. 

A Skills-Based Economy

The economy became more skills-based, and people just kept on learning. In modern economies, there has been a steady move towards knowledge work. For this to happen, people need higher levels of education. Even more so, due to the rapid change in workplace skills, employees must constantly upgrade their abilities. 

All of this means that workers now have a large range of skills that can be applied to numerous positions, all within the same organization. But the lack of upward movement results in them applying these skills without getting “promoted” in the traditional sense, for example, by becoming a C-level manager. Instead, they move to different roles based on their skills without necessarily getting an official title that suggests seniority.  

How Career Lattice Growth Is Different

The transition to career lattices affects more than just routes to advancement. Horizontal moves within organizations are leading to new factors when it comes to locations, communications, and skills.


Visually, a career lattice looks exactly like that – a grid structure where the career path goes in various directions upwards, sideways, and even down. In application, this means that an employee will work in numerous physical locations during their career, according to where they are needed. 

The online world will also change. The work from home arrangements that became common during the pandemic are only one dimension of this setup. WFH got us accustomed to virtual offices. But, with career lattices, the digital workplace also means switching between time zones and online meetings across different geographical locations. This is because not every position on the grid will be available in the employee’s regular physical location. 

Such a new definition of the workplace implies a new set of skills as well. Expect time management, organizational abilities, and even cultural sensitivity training to move up the L&D priorities list. 


If traditional organizational structures are being transformed, then communication within organizations will change as well. Information flows will need to adapt as employees moving between roles become part of teams created for specific projects and around certain functions. Flatter hierarchies will require breaking down the social barriers that once existed between employees at different levels. HR departments will be exploring growth strategies as workers will need to fit in according to whatever skills their teams need. There will undoubtedly be an even greater emphasis on leadership and followership skills. 


A major consequence of career lattices is the need to constantly upgrade skills and build employee experiences. During the days of career ladders, a worker’s career development path was more or less set. But with a lattice system, skills depend on where the employee wants to go, and where the organization needs to plug the latest skill gap. In such an environment, organizations must have a way of rapidly developing the exact skill that an employee requires for their next step up or across the company. Capability Academies enable agile L&D programming that involves multiple learning experiences and a marketplace of experts for providing any number and type of courses. 

GrowthSpace Supports Any Route You Take

GrowthSpace is the right tool for the times. As a flexible, scalable platform for customized talent development, GrowthSpace allows HR teams to easily and consistently plan, manage, and assess a variety of L&D programs. Handling the complex requirements of a dynamic lattice-based workplace is tough enough; GrowthSpace is your pathway to making L&D management effective and easy.

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