Jumping Off the Career Ladder onto the Work Lattice


by Wim Dodson


When I was a management consultant people always asked me how I got into the field. I would answer, “Well, my degree is in Physics, but I wanted to be a writer, so I became a consultant to support myself.”


Simple. Neat.


Frankly, a look at my career path -- if that’s what it could be called -- would be very much like a tour of the proverbial hot dog factory. Messy messy messy.


But, boy, does it taste good!


Little did I know over the decades that I was actually in the vanguard of what has become the “new normal”. It even has a name: the Work Lattice, coined in a Deloitte white paper in 2011.


The traditional career model dates back a hundred years in the US (even further back if you take into account career bureaucrats and expats in the British East India Company). Tradition dictated that employees climbed ladders to “success”. Success, of course, was always defined by the people with power and money. A sort of Layer Cake, if you’ve seen the film.


The Work Lattice has replaced the career ladder as the dominant career development model. Move from company to company, industry to industry, skill to skill to build a toolkit that will last you a lifetime no matter economic conditions and political climate


“2016 report from Barclays bank. It found that 24% of workers under age 34 have already worked in four industries, compared to 59% of workers over 65, who spent time in just three industries for their entire career. For those that continue on this path, they will have seven times as many job roles as their parents, according to the data.”


The work lattice as a career model is important to diverse professionals who feel trapped and/blocked on the career ladder. Diverse professionals already know they have to work 10 times harder than white males to grasp that next rung on the ladder. Diverse professionals also know to their core that any sort of arbitrary decision can keep them from ascending for years.


As a senior consultant many moons ago at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, then Computer Sciences Corporation and then to BearingPoint, I had the observation reinforced for me over and over again that having that next rung dangled in front of me by partners was rather irksome. I wasn’t a dog in need of a bone, after all, all instinct and drool in pursuit of the next title and bump up in pay (as defined arbitrarily by someone else).


I had already owned my own small business and discovered several things when I sold out and began the climb up the corporate ladder: I had learned way more as an entrepreneur serving clients directly and without hindrance than I ever did hamstrung in Corporate; promotions are like mirages -- they seem to become more remote the closer you think you’re getting to them -- and having a boss sucks.


I had already been on a work lattice of my own design and didn’t know it.


Not necessarily that I’m pushing that everyone become self-employed.


However, I am advocating that everyone take charge of their careers as though they were entrepreneurs.


Whenever a young person (and everyone seems younger to me nowadays) asks me for career advice, I tell them this: “Work for a corporation during your twenties. Have someone else pay for your professional tutelage. I paid for my own education as an entrepreneur, which was tough and expensive.


“Take the corporation for all that it’s worth in gathering together the skills you believe you’ll need to realize what you value and that you believe will make you marketable. When the corporation no longer gets you the skills and experience you need to move closer to realizing your long-term goals, move on. Don’t tread water.”


And therein lies the rub: make it all about you. Corporations have certainly made it all about them.


With the expectation that Millennials will most likely have at least 20 jobs within their lifetime, the best way to be directed is to be connected with what you truly value that people and companies will pay for.


It is truly a new world of work. Globalization. Technological innovation. Automation. Miniaturization. These are forces that have rendered social and corporate contracts near meaningless.


It’s up to you now to bring meaning and service to your own life and to those of others.


Be what you mean.™