Why the Career Ladder is Going Nowhere


You might remember the days, or heard the urban legends, when someone worked at the same company for fifty years, received their gold watch, and walked into the sunset. Hold on tight, be patient, and keep climbing—we've all been told this will pay off some day.

If you pay your dues and stay with our company long enough, you will move up the ladder. - Ancient inscription on an employee orientation letter

Today, with the flattening of organizations, the career ladder has been replaced by a career lattice—where advancement isn’t only about vertical movement. Success is also about horizontal opportunities that provide new experiences and expand skills.

Careers today don’t follow nice tidy paths. They zig and zag in response to the doors that open and opportunities that are seized. This makes some people seasick, but it’s the new reality.

My career is a case in point: currently in my fifth career, aspiring engineer, became a corporate banker, moved into leadership development, and became a solopreneur, then an entrepreneur with a growing team, and now an author and professional speaker.

Josh Bersin founder of Bersin by Deloitte recently told me, “I think there’s basically a redefinition of what business is, and it isn’t just a hierarchical company. It’s a network. This is having profound implications on how we manage people, people’s careers, and how we develop people, or manage performance. Traditional management stuff is getting questioned because it doesn’t serve you as well in this new world.“

Think about it. A hamster wheel is simply a ladder made into a circle. It’s designed for running in place.

The career lattice is indicative of how the corporate hierarchy is shifting. From defined “hard-line reporting” and top-down structure to one that is matrixed. You can be “hard lined” to one manager while “dotted lined” to another manager or team. We now work in a series of interconnected and interdependent networks.

When we pause to consider who our “bosses” are, most of us will identify an ever-extending and convoluted group that includes customers, colleagues, our immediate boss, our bosses’ boss , the regional leader, and the functional leader.

Learning to manage what may become competing perspectives and opinions will differentiate the high performer of the future. To future-proof your career you need to be connected at multiple levels, to multiple people, and actively cultivate those connections.

Relationship with Employers

The twentieth-century expectation of work was this: we provide our skills, mental and physical, to one employer in return for getting paid at a regular and predictable cadence. This forms the basis for what was described as the “psychological contract,” the implicit expectations which employers had of their employees—and vice versa. Work hard and the company would provide pay and benefits for a lifetime.

The idea of an employer taking care of its employees from Day One through retirement might seem too good to be true, and it’s certainly too good to be true now. The rules of the employer-employee contract, whether implicit or explicit, are being rewritten.

The rules of the employer-employee contract, whether implicit or explicit, are being rewritten.

The question is, are you managing your career accordingly? Are you stuck on the ladder, or enjoying the lattice?

As a manager, are you dealing with the new reality of employees who expect to climb a lattice—and jump when opportunity knocks?

In the modern world, working for several employers in part-time and contract work will continue to increase. Company pension schemes are becoming less common, with individual retirement account or stakeholder pensions becoming the responsibility of each individual.

Loyalties are shifting from the company or the team, and to the manager one works with. The quality of the working relationship with boss and colleagues, or the lack of it, is a key driver for staying with, or leaving, an employer. The Kelly Global Workforce Index 2013 surveyed 120,000 respondents from thirty-one countries across the globe. Of these, sixty-three percent of the participants stated that the quality of the relationship with their direct manager impacted their level of satisfaction with their job.

The psychological contract is no more. Welcome to the social contract.

Relationships matter, and the quality of our working relationships matter even more. Our willingness to tolerate toxic behaviors —the team member who takes credit for our work, the boss who yells, or being excluded from team meetings—is diminishing. Our options to seek opportunities elsewhere are endless. When people move to a new job, it’s not just about the money being offered, it’s also about the quality of the team experience.

Globalization is changing the nature of work. No longer are individual employees competing in a local market for the next opportunity, instead we are all part of the Global Talent Pool. When it comes to finding new sources of talent it seems that 21st Century companies are destined to play a never-ending game of global whack-a-mole. As fast as a new talent hotspot pops up, whether it’s a city or a country, other companies quickly follow—the market is saturated – and the game moves to the next talent hotspot.

The internet means we are now competing with an unseen colleague who may be thousands of miles, and many time zones, away. When you’re sleeping, they’re working.

Dan Pink, bestselling author of books on the changing world of work, observes “talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people.”

The future of work is less of a chore or a place we have to go to. Instead, work becomes something we choose to do, because we want to.

As a manager, are you ready to move your company into the lattice?

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.