Advisory 2023

Career Growth Redefined: Classic Career Ladder Facing the Career Lattice

Barbora Palenikova

It used to be that the only career path was the one based on hierarchal growth, where only those that climbed to the top received any recognition. However, this is no longer the only encounterable career model. Its new opponent, the so-called “career lattice” is much more flexible, dynamic and with its approach casts doubt on the concept of a career ladder.


In this article, you will read about:


  • The differences between the classic career ladder and the career lattice.
  • Pros and Cons of both models of career growth
  • Which model is suitable for whom
  • What does the new approach change when recruiting


The career ladder principle: narrow specialisation and managerial roles as the ultimate goal

This model puts emphasis on long-term loyalty and on performing an excellent job within one organisation. This model requires time, patience and it seems to many that there is only one right way, only one defined direction that would lead to success successful. This model is known as the career ladder.

The career ladder is based on hierarchal and structured climb within the organisation’s structure. The employees are working their way “up” the predefined role structure and with every step, their responsibilities and rewards increase. This traditional model puts emphasis on the specialisation and expertise in a certain area. The ultimate goal is to get on the top, which means managerial or executive roles. Those who succeed are considered top-notch professionals, which have reached the highest peak of success.

Despite the fact that the climb is accompanied by increasing authority and responsibility, it can diverge from the narrow expertise and deliver bigger focus on different aspects of working with people, clients or the internal organisation.

I will try to properly explain on the following examples:


  1. Account -> Head of Accounting: An accountant, which specialises in a certain field, can be promoted to be on the leading team. This new role brings responsibility not only for their work but also for the managing and coordination of the team members. The team’s leader must continuously show they are highly competent, communicative and can manage conflicts.
  2. Project Manager -> Programme Manager: A manager responsible for leading certain projects can be promoted to Programme Manager. This position holds responsibility for coordination and monitoring of multiple related projects. Other than project management they will also take care of strategy, resource planning and risk control.
  3. Consultant -> Director of Consulting team: Consultant that offers professional consulting and solutions to clients can be promoted to a manager position. This role holds greater responsibility when it comes to creating and maintaining relationships with clients and when searching and fetching new business opportunities.


Pros of the career ladder

The career ladder draws a clear distinct plan of career growth, which is, to a certain degree, understandable. Just set your goals and work on getting there step by step.

Those climbing the career ladder become ever so greater in their field of expertise. They increase their professional reputation through specialisation and they set the field for further growth and progress (Let’s leave sectors be for now, since there it works the other way around, the employee has to first become an expert in order to climb the career ladder).


Cons of the career ladder

A straightforward way to “success” represented by the career ladder is not exactly fulfilling for many. Many times this model restricts people to a certain degree when it comes to their working range. Contemporary job market changes fast that is why it needs more people with a flexible approach to their personal growth.


The career lattice principle: constant learning and diverse skills

Contemporary market continues to push for a flexible and dynamic alternative, which casts doubt on the concept of the career ladder – the career lattice. This brings a more flexible and multidimensional approach to one’s career growth. Instead of a direct line going all the way up, employees get to discover and try different tasks, functions and departments with emphasis on developing diverse skills.


Pros of the career lattice

The career lattice encourages employees to develop on a broad scale of skills and experiences. Employees traversing through different divisions or even departments develop their general skills, which increases their adaptability and attractiveness in a rapidly changing market.


Cons of the career lattice

Applying the career lattice in practice means that a person entirely accepts the process of constant learning in their life. When individuals engage in varying fields and departments they expand their knowledge, they face challenges and gain new perspectives, which boosts their personal and professional growth. This process is really heavy on resolve and endurance.


4 factors to consider when choosing a career path

Which career path to choose? Think about your long-term ambitions and personal values. They will reveal whether you prefer a specialised and continuous climb on the career ladder or whether you prefer the diversity and adaptability of the career lattice.

Another tip hides in the job market. Look at the demand for your type of skills and watch the trend in your sector. You can use this to figure out which of the models, better suit the changing demand of the job market.

Consider the amount of risks you are willing to tolerate. The career lattice carries a certain uncertainty and the need of taking calculated risks, while the career ladder offers a structured and predictable approach.

Last but not least, think about your personal preferences and work type. Some people prefer stability and the structure of the career ladder, while others find themselves in the flexibility and the exploring aspect of the career lattice. However, one must not forget that a higher position could lead to a complete change of the type of your work. This means that in the end you could lose the work, which made you motivated and attracted you to the department in the first place.


Skill based recruiting: valuing skills over experience

Besides the differences between the career ladder and the career lattice, the rise of skills based recruiting is also important to mention. This model used while gathering and evaluating candidates focuses on their exact skills and abilities, while disregarding the specific work position, which the candidate held in the past. Skill based recruiting tries to identify and judge skills that the individual could bring to the organisation and subsequently allows them to adapt to different tasks and roles based on said skills. The point of skill based recruiting is that when judging the skills and during interviews, it is vital that the employer not consider candidate’s previous skills as the only criteria of their potential. Skills based on an exact role or a department do not always have to reflect the real potential of an individual and their capability to use them in a different environment for different tasks. While judging potential based on skill is significantly harder, the benefits could be much greater, since this approach sheds a new light on the matter and casts doubt on the old status quo it brings many new possibilities when uncovering the hidden potential of a candidate.


Listen to your inner voice and choose the career path that suits you

When it comes to career growth, there is no universal criteria for success. Whether we feel satisfied depends on the person’s individual goals and values. While some consider the higher ladder position to be an achievement, others prefer broadening their horizons and the influence they have on their surroundings. The contemporary dynamic job market presents us with a choice and whether you choose the career ladder or the career lattice is entirely up to one’s goals, values and preferences. The career ladder offers a structuralized approach with a clear path ahead, set on an ascending hierarchy, while the career lattice offers the freedom of discovering a number of opportunities, the ability to develop a broader set of skills and in turn give the new role a broader outlook and a unique angle on things.

A successful career is one that meets your personal ambitions and allows for continuous growth, adaptability and fulfilment.  Do not let anyone persuade you for one model or the other. The only way to truly be successful is to listen to your own inner voice.