Replacing the corporate ‘ladder’ with the ‘lattice’

Horizontal growth is a must before achieving vertical growth opine HR experts.

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With work-from-home becoming the new normal in the business world, the age-old corporate ‘ladder’ is giving way to the ‘lattice’. In other words, flow of ideas, development and recognition are taking the horizontal path instead of the vertical one.

The lattice is proving to be a more collaborative and customised approach to structuring work, building careers and fostering participation.

“A career lattice is similar to a jungle gym, where you have the opportunity to do things, not necessarily for the sake of career growth, but to enhance your own learning,” emphasises Raj Raghavan, senior VP and head-HR, Indigo Airlines.

Prem Singh

Today, you could join as a mechanical engineer, then get into data science. Next, acquire new skills and you move into AI/ML. Add more to yourself and eventually you could end up becoming the CEO of an advertising firm 

He further elaborates, “A career lattice is more apt because you get to learn a lot —from many things to everything. It is more satisfying to do things you haven’t done before, and when you delve deep into a role which not many want to take, you come out much stronger in comparison to the ones who have been just following the usual ladder. Lattices teach you the harder path, and that is where you learn a lot and differentiate yourself from the others in the same group.”

Prem Singh, Group HR Head, JK Organisation, explains, “The career ‘ladder’, as a concept, was applied at a time when we were largely driven by a well-defined work environment and businesses were very stable and predictable. A lattice, on the other hand, is more apt for the dynamic business environments and it helps individuals acquire more and diverse skills as they more from one to the next role. Becoming more adaptable and with addition of new  skill sets, people can also create far higher levels of value for the business, while moving from one domain to the another.”

Experiencing the power to experiment and learn the nitty-gritty of another role, while staying in the same domain, is becoming rather common. “Therefore, career lattices are becoming more productive and helpful to individuals as compared to a well-defined path of growth, in the long run. The key is – being agile, learning new skills, doing something different and embracing new work environment” opines Singh.

Raj Raghavan

The horizontal growth path or lattice, looks much like a ladder which guarantees fruitful results. But unlike a ladder, the procedure isn’t one where each step necessary leads to a higher platform

Why is appropriate training provided to individuals entering a job domain, irrespective of industry or organisation? Training not merely prepares people to work in a particular function, but prepares them to dip their hands into a minimum of four to five different job roles, which will eventually help them attain the required mastery in their respective domains. “The first 10 years should be your learning period. Post that, you can specialise in leading a particular domain when you are well aware of your counter domains too and you can train those under you on similar learnings and grounds. Those 10 years should be considered as your career lattice, where you should complete whatever functions you are required to get adept at,” asserts Bikram K Nayak, head-HR, L&T NxT.

Favouring the lattice structure, Nayak further explains by quoting an example — “The most sought out player within the Indian cricket team isn’t Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli, it is KL Rahul, because he is a multi-dimensional player. He has learnt wicket keeping as well as batting at numbers 1-4-6. So, if you also learn to perform varied tasks within your domain; with four to five additional functions, you will be a better individual and professional. And as a leader, if you are adept at performing functions beyond your own domain, then you will also be a better and more empathetic leader in comparison to others.”

Career ladders today do not fit the employees into a well-defined structure, where they can experiment and learn other skills from varied domains. Lattices, on the other hand, not only contribute significantly to the foundation of an individual’s holistic personality, but largely provide an avenue to grow into any sphere or dimension.

Bikram K Nayak

The first 10 years should be your learning period.Those 10 years should be considered as your career lattice, where you should complete whatever functions you are required to get adept at

Today, the work environment is so unpredictable and undergoing changes so fast, that it is becoming extremely difficult to define what is traditionally called a ‘career ladder’.

Therefore, as opposed to the past, when someone who joined as a mechanical engineer, ended up being one forever, with continuous growth in the same field alone, there are more opportunities to diversify today. Singh claims, “Today, joining as a mechanical engineer can also open avenues for you to become a data scientist expert. And by learning a few more skills you can even end up being the CEO of an advertising firm.”

“The horizontal growth path or lattice, looks much like a ladder which guarantees fruitful results. But unlike a ladder, the procedure isn’t one where each step necessary leads to a higher platform. It can be like a game of snakes and ladders, where you think you are going great till a COVID-like situation (which wasn’t even created by you) takes you back to square one, where you have to start from scratch! Hence, growth isn’t a ladder but rather a zig-zag way to progress,” elucidates Raghavan.

“You cannot grow vertically unless you complete your horizontal growth,” asserts Nayak.

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