Ladder vs. Lattice: The Pros and Cons of Two Major Career Paths
You’ve heard of climbing the career ladder, but did you know there’s another option? Many modern employers and employees are taking a more lattice-like approach, which has a variety of benefits.
In this article, Chris Stappard, Managing Director of Edward Reed Recruitment, shares his insight on both ladder and lattice career paths, then weighs up the pros and cons of each to help determine which one is best for you.
Whether you’re at the very start of your career or working your way up to a senior position, it’s important to have an end goal in mind. However, it’s also sensible to work out a basic understanding of how to get there.
Generally, there are two main career paths available for you to take to arrive at your dream role: the traditional vertical ladder, where you climb the ranks in one department, or the modern lattice, where you acquire value by gaining skills and experience in lots of different positions. But how do you know which mode of mobility is right for you?
Below, I’ll be taking you through the pros and cons of both approaches to climbing the corporate structure to help you decide which will benefit you the most.
What is a ladder career path?
A career ladder path is the traditional method of promotion, with an emphasis on earning titles. This approach is good for highly specialised careers where you’re expected to become an expert in your particular role, and the path you take to get there is straightforward and direct. That makes it easier for others to understand your progression from an entry-level employee to a senior, giving a clear picture of the journey you took to get there. It’s more explicit for potential employers too, so it’s a good option if you know you want to change companies.
Ladder career paths are perfect for working your way up the corporate structure quickly, but by doing so, you’re limiting yourself from learning new skills or exploring new experiences in other disciplines. You’re also less likely to understand the bigger picture of the company and take other perspectives into account, so in some ways, it makes you less valuable to your employer.
What is a lattice career path?
If climbing the ladder is vertical growth, then a lattice career path is horizontal. Rather than working your way up through the ranks in one department, you change roles within a company to pick up new skills and earn a more rounded experience.
This way, you learn multiple new approaches and put them into practice by working with different departments and teams. Then, you can use your inter-departmental knowledge to come up with new approaches to problem solving and bridge gaps between disciplines.
This approach has benefits for the employer because it stops you from staying in one role for too long. This means you’re less likely to become bored and export your talent and expertise to another company. By investing in your development, the company ultimately benefits from your growth, so it’s mutually beneficial.
You can forge your own lattice career path by identifying your skills gaps, then looking for career growth opportunities within your company and working to address those deficiencies.
However, you’ll have to justify your approach to potential employers, who might consider your lattice path a detour.
Which is the most effective way to pursue a senior position?
The problem with ladder career paths from an employee perspective is that movement is restricted based on availability, so you have to wait for a position to open up before you can get promoted — even if you already have the necessary skills and experience.
Plus, our attitudes towards finding work are changing. Employment is at an all-time high and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to vacancies, so we now expect companies to provide talent mobility programmes. We often enquire as to how an employer can benefit us in terms of learning and training during the interviewing stage.
We’re also less hesitant to change jobs than in previous decades, which means that employee loyalty is earned rather than expected. Companies have to provide more opportunities for career development to overcome engagement and retention problems.
Additionally, the way modern businesses are structured means that horizontal growth is more likely to be favoured in the future. Corporate structures are flattening, and employees are expected to be good all-rounders with lots of skills in different areas, both of which are supported by lattice career paths.
Ladder and lattice career paths are the two most popular modes of mobility, but the latter seems likely to overtake in terms of popularity. Focus on your personal goals to decide which is best for you.
Alternatively, you could combine both approaches and benefit from each — building up your skill set while moving up through the ranks.