Career Lattice: A Modern Path to Professional Growth

By August 14, 2023Assessments

Mapping out and developing a career can be a complex and sometimes confusing journey. Gone are the days when career advancement meant solely climbing up the corporate ladder.

The world has moved on, and the old system of an employee progressing along their original career path by climbing up the corporate ladder is over.

The career lattice has replaced the outdated career ladder.

What’s a career lattice?

The traditional corporate ladder model emphasizes a linear progression, where employees climb vertically through the ranks to reach higher management positions.

Today, employees change jobs routinely. They also have talents and interests that go beyond their original career path. These facts have made the traditional career ladder irrelevant, having been replaced by the career lattice.

The career lattice offers an alternative approach, treating employees as individuals. The lattice career path is one that each employee develops for themselves.

Here are a few more points to consider about the career lattice model:

  • Skill diversification—By encouraging lateral moves across different roles, employees can develop a broader skill set that makes them more adaptable and valuable to the organization.
  • Retention and employee satisfaction—The flexibility and personalization of career lattices can enhance employee satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Innovation and collaboration—Cross-functional moves made possible by the career lattice can lead to improved collaboration and innovation.
  • Leadership development—Lateral moves can contribute to well-rounded leadership development.
  • Reduced silos—The traditional ladder model can sometimes create silos where employees are focused solely on their own vertical trajectory.
  • Flexible career paths—Not all employees aspire to be managers. The career lattice acknowledges that success isn’t solely defined by climbing the corporate hierarchy.
  • Learning culture—Organizations that embrace the career lattice model often foster a strong learning culture.

Implementing a career lattice model requires a shift in mindset and organizational culture. Career development should be seen as a dynamic and personalized journey rather than a predefined ladder.

Unlike the rigid corporate ladder, a career lattice allows people to move sideways into new roles based on their passions and strengths.

With lattices, the focus shifts from just climbing upwards to expanding skills through diverse experiences across teams and divisions.

This diversity of opportunity is very appealing to talent, particularly younger people, who want to keep growing rather than get stuck in one narrow role.

Your career success lies in moving upward and navigating the ever-evolving lattice.

How is a career lattice different from a career ladder?

The term “career ladder’ refers to vertical career progression and specialization within a specific field while employed at a single company. The career progression framework is mapped out for the employee.

A career lattice promotes lateral movement, skill diversification, and adaptability. Employee moves are chosen by the employee and largely based on personal goals.

What is a career ladder?

A career ladder is a structured and hierarchical progression path within a company where employees move up through predefined levels of positions, usually within a single career track or functional area.

It’s a traditional career advancement model involving promotions and increased responsibilities within a specific field or specialization. In a career ladder:

  • Advancement is usually earned by meeting specific criteria, such as experience, skills, performance, and often tenure.
  • Employees follow a linear trajectory, moving from lower-level roles to higher-level roles with increasing responsibilities.
  • The focus is on vertical progression, with an emphasis on climbing the organizational hierarchy.
  • Employees may become subject matter experts within their chosen field.
  • This model can provide a clear and well-defined path for advancement and promotions.

While career ladders offer stability and clarity regarding career growth, they might not suit individuals seeking varied experiences, cross-functional exposure or those who wish to explore different roles beyond a single track.

As a result, the concept of a “career lattice” has gained prominence as a more flexible alternative that allows for lateral movement and skill diversification.

Understanding the career lattice framework

The idea of a career lattice is a new way to think of a career path that offers flexible progression for professional growth.

Unlike other nontraditional career paths or ladders, where promotions are typically linear and vertical, a career lattice allows and even encourages employees to move horizontally and diagonally within your organization.

Looking beyond the traditional career ladder and adopting a career lattice model can benefit both employees and companies.

With career lattices, employees can try different roles and teams across departments.

Giving employees lateral moves between departments builds well-rounded, versatile team members. And when people feel engaged trying new roles, they’ll likely stick around longer. So lattices help nurture development and loyalty.

The concept of a corporate lattice was introduced to break the rigidity of traditional career paths. Previously, you might have felt limited to climbing a single career ladder, focusing on promotions within your department. With a career lattice, you can build a more personalized career management pathway based on your unique strengths and interests.

By embracing a career lattice mindset, employers can:

  • Develop a diverse skillset by encouraging employees to work in various roles and departments.
  • Enhance employee retention through the reduction of employee monotony.
  • Increase their succession plans by developing existing employees.

To make the most of the career lattice model, consider the following steps:

  • Identify the strengths and interests of your employees and how to match them with potential career moves.
  • Encourage interdepartmental cross-training
  • Boost diagonal upskilling

With a lattice, employees have the chance to make lateral moves into new roles, teams, and departments. This opens up more options for those looking to develop new skills or change their careers.

Benefits of a career lattice

Rather than force people into rigid, vertical promotions, lattices encourage horizontal growth through diverse experiences across the organization.

Employees can shape fulfilling careers that adapt as their strengths, interests, and goals evolve. There’s no one-size-fits-all path; everyone can customize their professional journey.

So, consider a career lattice model if you want to retain talent by providing more flexibility and possibilities.

Help your people grow not just up but across by being open to diagonal moves that align with their passions. That’s how you encourage adaptable employees who feel empowered in their careers.

Employee engagement and satisfaction

If you want to boost employee engagement at your company, it may be time to rethink the traditional career ladders model and adopt the more flexible career lattices model instead.

With career lattices, employees aren’t stuck climbing straight upward into management. They can make lateral moves across different roles, teams, and departments to gain new skills and experiences.

Allowing employees to customize their career paths will lead to greater engagement.

Unlike being boxed into one narrow function, your people will feel energized and valued as they tackle diverse organizational assignments and perspectives.

A sideways or diagonal career move lets employees broaden their capabilities to find the best fit based on their interests and strengths.

Work-life balance

Unlike rigid ladders, career lattices empower employees to make lateral moves to jobs that better align with their personal goals and responsibilities outside of work. This flexibility can reduce stress and enhance overall well-being, contributing to a healthier and more motivated workforce.

A parent can shift to a position with more family-friendly hours. Someone caring for an aging parent can find a less travel-heavy role.

When employers support people as their needs change, they help them balance and thrive in all aspects of life.

Employees feel more satisfied and energized when they have options to shape roles that fit their evolving lifestyles.

Retention and Motivation

A career lattice improves employee retention and motivation because most employees say it demonstrates that your company is invested in their growth and values their skills.

With multiple avenues for development, employees are more likely to feel motivated to progress and stay with your organization. This approach retains talent, as employees view your company as a place where they can achieve long-term success.

Why should employers use the career lattice model?

The career lattice model gives employees the ability to move into different roles, teams, and departments if they’re interested.

Employees who cross-train get new skills and experience, and lateral movement improves collaboration and innovation while enhancing agility.

Companies get better employees who are more engaged and less likely to leave.

When employers help employees to plan their own career paths, they show that they’re dedicated to their professional development.

Career progression tools

Employers should include a strong employee development program to get the best results from using a career lattice model.

The details of your company’s employee development plan will vary, but there are several career progression tools they can use

  1. Performance Reviews and Feedback —Employees should receive regular performance reviews to assess strengths and areas for improvement.
  2. Individual Development Plans (IDPs)—Work with employees to create tailored development plans that meet the employee’s career goals and the company’s needs.
  3. Training and Development Programs— Encourage employees to attend workshops, seminars, and online courses, to enhance their skills and knowledge.
  4. Mentorship and Coaching:—Connect employees with experienced mentors or coaches who can provide guidance and support.
  5. Job Rotation and Cross-Functional Projects—Rotate employees through different roles or departments to expose them to diverse experiences and assign them to projects that require collaboration acr
  6. Leadership Development Programs—Identify and groom potential leaders through targeted leadership training initiatives.

Employers shouldn’t limit themselves to one plan. Use a combination of tools that fit the company’s needs and the employee’s interests.

The importance of employee assessments

Taking the effort to assess your employees’ current skills thoroughly offers significant benefits. It provides managers and team members with a clear understanding of existing strengths and areas for improvement.

By using assessments, you can uncover latent abilities that employees might not be aware of and identify key areas for targeted development.

When conducting skill assessments, go beyond just annual reviews.

Incorporate methods such as self-evaluations, hands-on exercises, peer feedback, and observation of work.

Utilizing online skill platforms with built-in benchmarks can also be advantageous.

However, one of the most direct approaches is through performance-based assessments. These assessments measure competencies by having employees showcase their skills through real work tasks.

One company, TrueAbility, is a leading developer of performance-based assessments. Performance-based assessments evaluate skills through role-specific challenges, establishing an accurate skills baseline for guiding further development.

 Contact TrueAbility today to find out how skills tests effectively can support the professional growth and development of your current employees, align their skills with organizational needs, and enhance their overall performance.

Gaining deeper insights into your employees’ genuine talents and needs enables you to cultivate their growth effectively. This is an invaluable investment in enhancing your workforce.

Promoting lattice culture

Creating a lattice culture involves promoting flexibility and adaptability in career progressions. Your responsibilities in this aspect can include:

  • Establishing a culture of learning: Foster an environment where employees are encouraged to learn, develop, and expand their skill sets, fulfilling both personal and organizational needs.
  • Enabling horizontal and diagonal movement: Remove barriers that may limit employees’ movement across different departments or roles, thus facilitating non-linear career progressions.
  • Recognizing and promoting competency development: Reward employees who demonstrate new skills and competencies by considering them for promotions and other career advancement opportunities.
  • Communicating the benefits of a lattice culture: Educate your employees on the advantages of a lattice approach, emphasizing how it allows them to adapt to the ever-changing business environment and grow professionally.

Promoting a lattice culture creates an organization where employees feel empowered to explore diverse career paths and advance according to their aspirations and talents. Always adopt a friendly tone when discussing these topics with your employees; it can help them feel more comfortable and receptive.

With these tools and strategies in place, you’ll be ready to facilitate a productive and growth-oriented environment that benefits both employees and the company.

Implementing a career lattice model in your business

Adapting to a career lattice model is a process, but the payoff is motivated, multi-skilled employees and an agile organization prepared for the future.

Developing an implementation strategy

When implementing a career lattice in your business, the first step is to create a clear strategy.

First, take a close look at the various roles across your organization. Analyze each one and how they connect to other teams and functions.

Pinpoint lateral moves that make the most strategic sense for expanding employee capabilities and organizational adaptability.

Focus on opportunities that will mutually benefit both individual growth and collaborative success. Outline paths between roles to start opening up cross-functional growth.

Impact of the career lattice model on business outcomes

With engaged, skilled employees and agile structures, career lattices strengthen an organization’s adaptability, productivity, and competitive edge.

Employee productivity

A career lattice model can significantly improve your employees’ productivity.

By allowing your team to explore different roles within the organization, they can gain new competencies and skills. This enhances their engagement and motivation, which ultimately leads to increased productivity.

As the traditional career ladder transitions into a more flexible career lattice model, you’ll find that your employees will be more willing to take on new challenges and responsibilities, encouraging a dynamic and enthusiastic work culture.

Revenue and profitability

Adopting a career lattice approach can positively impact your business’s revenue and profitability.

When your employees have the opportunity to diversify their skill set and move across the company, they will bring fresh ideas and perspectives to their new roles.

This approach can result in innovative solutions and improved business processes that drive revenue growth.

A career lattice enables you to recognize and develop talent within your organization more effectively, reducing the cost of external recruitment and employee turnover.

By providing employees with diagonal job growth and development opportunities, they will be more dedicated to the success of your business, which can lead to increased profitability.

A career lattice model can boost employee retention and productivity and enhance your company’s profitability. However, it’s crucial to devise an effective strategy that works with your company’s specific needs and goals.

Your employees can enjoy a fulfilling and dynamic career while contributing to your company’s success.

Career lattice in a changing world of work

Changes in the economic and political world have vastly altered work, requiring companies to be more agile and resilient than ever.

In this context, the career lattice emerges as a valuable model, encouraging learning and offering flexibility for your career growth.

With a career lattice, employees aren’t confined to a linear path of progression.

Instead, they can diversify their expertise by moving vertically, horizontally, and diagonally within your organization, leveraging their skills in a new position without leaving their job.

Embracing continuous learning is crucial when developing a career lattice, as the appeal to your employees depends on their ability to stay up-to-date with their industry’s latest developments and trends.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can employees navigate a career lattice effectively?

Employees can navigate a career lattice effectively by actively communicating their career aspirations with their managers, seeking cross-functional experiences to broaden their skill sets, proactively developing new skills, and taking ownership of their professional growth through continuous learning. They should also apply internally for new positions that they are interested in.

Can a career lattice model work in large organizations with complex hierarchies?

Yes, a career lattice model can be adapted to fit various organizational structures, including large organizations with complex hierarchies. However, its implementation might require more comprehensive planning, effective change management strategies, and open communication to address potential challenges.

How can employers ensure fairness in promotions within a career lattice model?

To ensure fairness in promotions, employers should establish transparent promotion criteria considering lateral and vertical experiences. Regular performance assessments, feedback mechanisms, and clearly defined skill benchmarks can help ensure that promotions are based on merit and skill diversification.


It’s essential to adapt and grow in today’s changing work environment. Embracing the concept of a career lattice can help your company harness the full potential of its employees and increase employee engagement and retention by developing them. By encouraging vertical, horizontal, and diagonal career moves, you’ll have a team with a more diverse skill set and experience base, which can lead to greater productivity and success.

As you consider implementing a career lattice model, remember to stay open-minded to employee feedback and be willing to learn. You may be surprised to discover new areas of interest and untapped talents in your internal talent pool as you navigate the more flexible journey a career lattice allows for. This can lead to not only increased job satisfaction and overall happiness but also improve your reputation as a potential employer.

Remember that some team members will be quicker than others to embrace the challenge of forging a unique career path. Changing minds and expanding horizons might take more time and effort for some employees and managers, so don’t be discouraged if progress seems slow at times. The important thing is to focus on the potential of the career lattice model. There are very few situations in business where everyone can win, but with this model, the company will get better employees without having to recruit, the employees will get new opportunities in the company, and everyone will feel a greater level of engagement.

Jodi Mai began her career as a recruiter after college. She moved into an HR Generalist role and later, into HR management, working on such topics as employee relations, benefit administration, and payroll. Over the last 15 years, she has worked in the talent acquisition and management industry, and since 2018, Jodi has expanded to HR consulting and writing on HR and recruitment topics.

Learn more about TrueAbility—an industry leader in providing assessment testing and has experience offering testing, certification, and training to companies, such as Google, SUSE, VMWare etc.

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