Ladder or Lattice? Which Career Development Strategy is Best for Your Employees

Career development is essentialto today’s workers. Employees are eager to grow in their careers and advance within their organizations. Companies unable to facilitate that growth will continue to be plagued with engagement and retention problems. There are two main options for moving a career forward – up the career ladder or through the career lattice. But what does that growth look like?

The first is the traditional ladder model. Climbing the ladder is a vertical approach that is best suited for highly specialized careers and employees who are already in a particular field and know exactly what role inside that field they want to have in the future. This approach offers employees the chance to become experts in their chosen field, and progression along the chosen career path is logical and easily flows from one position to the next. However, this also limit’s the employee’s overall perspective of the company and movements up the ladder may be restricted based on companywide tenure rates and size. Roles along this route also tend to be more rigidly established, meaning work/life balance and personal fulfillment may be more difficult to achieve. This may be why increasing numbers of employees are choosing to look at their career progressions as occurring on a lattice rather than a ladder.

A career lattice offers employees variety and extensive opportunities for meeting new challenges, two things Millennial workers—in particular— find necessary for active engagement. Movements may be vertical, lateral, or diagonal, which places countless job roles on each employee’s potential career path instead of just a few. The lattice also avoids the limited perspective pitfalls of the ladder. The lattice’s broad moves across departments and functional areas enable employees to gain cross-functional skills that will put them ahead of their peers in general tasks and benefit them in many roles. It also enables employees to reframe those roles to better fit their personal ideal work/life balance—an issue especially important to women. Approximately 60% of female workers say work/life balance is “very important.”

The lattice’s greatest challenge, however, is that employees don’t know how to build it and do not have access to various progression. Even if they are fully aware of which roles and departments they want to experience, they are generally unaware of what skills gaps will need to be addressed to move between them, how to fill those gaps, and which order of movements is most beneficial for their specific long-term goals.

A robust career pathing software brings transparency and know-how to the career development process. Such software utilizes a systematic approach to career development, enabling employees to map multiple career path scenarios, review job competencies, and evaluate skill gaps. By giving employees the career pathing tools necessary to chart their career progression, they become more engaged in their roles and the development of their careers. The most effective also dynamically match employees with their next best role, depending on where they are at the moment.

Lattice or ladder, however, one thing is certain: Employees want a clear path forward. They want to broaden their horizons, grow in their careers, and excel in new challenges. Companies that understand how to help employees navigate their will be rewarded with high retention and increased engagement. To learn more about effective career development best practices, view our Learning Center.