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A Changing Workplace: From Corporate Ladders to Corporate Lattices

By Carolyn Lawrence


We talk about the corporate ladder as if it is every employee’s goal to climb it straight to the top. The problem? It’s not.

A customized career model, providing your employees with the opportunity to advance when and how they want, can set your company up for increased innovation and success. Better yet, it can help attract and retain high potential employees.

If you, or your company, are still managing your talent with an “up or out” mentality, time is running out. The data for large and leading corporations shows that you’re not going to be able to retain your talent, never mind attract the best. And what does that mean for your organization? Those strategic goals are going to become increasingly more difficult to achieve, with time and money wasted on replacing human capital.

An article in Forbes stated that “The enduring model for how companies have managed their work and their people since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the ladder represented an efficient though inflexible paradigm in which prestige, rewards, access to information, influence, power, and so on, tied directly to the rung you occupied. The problem is that we no longer live in an industrial age–nor is the workforce the uniform group it once was.”

The metaphor to think of when it comes to the new career model is no longer a ladder, but a lattice. And it is much more reflective of how women, and the next generation of top talent, want to be valued, and value the company they spend their time with.

Cathy Benko, Vice Chariman and Managing Principal from Deloitte, wrote the theory in her book The Corporate Lattice, focusing on the argument that a lattice model is better suited for our current business landscape. Here are a few takeaways to get you started:


Careers aren’t linear, they zigzag

Lattice organizations offer individual options to grow and develop, rather than the traditional ladder approach. The lattice approach to building careers attracts and engages top talent and helps develop adaptable, resourceful employees who respond seamlessly to change.

Work doesn’t have to happen from 9-5

The belief that all work must be done at a desk from nine to five is a thing of the past for lattice organizations, who believe in offering options for when, where, and how people do their work. This is argued to increase productivity, employee retention, and overall happiness, leading to strategic flexibility in operations.

Participation is fostered by all members of the team

Long gone are the beliefs that ideas are best from the top-down. Lattice organizations believe in participation from everyone; nurturing transparent cultures, and providing many ways for teams to collaborate on ideas, learn, and build an effective team.


Lattice organizations offer a unique opportunity to drive innovation, growth, and agility, fostering an inclusive workplace that is properly armed for change. The ladder model is inevitably collapsing, and we as leaders are faced with the opportunity to embrace the lattice model, or risk missing out on opportunities for some of the world’s brightest and innovative minds.



Carolyn is the President and CEO of Women of Influence, and also one of our expert coaches for our Advancement Centre. Looking to take the next step in your career? Check out our upcoming course offerings.