The world of work is at an inflection point. Firmly rooted in the industrial age, the corporate ladder has been the prevailing paradigm for structuring the enterprise and managing its work and people. At its heart, the ladder depends on an inflexible organizational worldview in which prestige, rewards, information access, and power are tied to the rung each employee occupies. Its one-size-fits-all approach assumes employees are more alike than different. The ladder is built on a top-down, 9-to-5 notion of when, where, and how work gets done. It defines career success as a linear climb to the top.
But the workforce isn’t what it used to be—and neither is the workplace. Companies have fewer hierarchical layers, limiting options to move straight up. And work is more virtual, collaborative, and project based, creating more choices for when, where, and even how it gets done.
We have coined the term corporate lattice™ to describe an alternative model to the corporate ladder that is better suited to the contemporary world of work. In mathematics, a lattice is a three-dimensional structure that extends infinitely in any direction. In the real world, lattices can be found everywhere from a garden’s wooden trellis to the metalwork on the Eiffel Tower.
In the corporate world, the lattice model organizes and advances a company’s existing, incremental efforts into a comprehensive, strategic response to the altered corporate landscape. It recognizes that career and life are no longer separate realms, but are now interdependent. It connects corresponding and necessary advances in talent practices with business operations to deliver both high performance and career-life fit.
The corporate lattice model changes the way companies operate in three core areas: how careers are built, how work gets done, and how participation in the organization happens.
The corporate lattice model is designed to help organizations see clearly the mindset transformation taking place and to demonstrate effective ways to navigate the shift. A cadre of companies is already modeling this new thinking, directly responding to the shifts, and in the process, enhancing overall competitiveness. Their success illuminates the path ahead.