Career Ladders vs. Career Lattices: What’s the Difference?

RRuth August 30, 2023 2:01 PM

When it comes to career growth and development, two concepts often come up: career ladders and career lattices. Both serve as metaphors for different approaches to career progression and offer different benefits.

What is a career ladder?

A career ladder is the traditional model of career development. Much like climbing a ladder, this approach involves moving up from one role to the next in a linear fashion, typically within a single organization. The ascent usually means increased responsibilities and pay, and each rung represents a new job title.

What is a career lattice?

On the other hand, a career lattice represents a more flexible approach. Instead of a straight upward trajectory, a career lattice allows for lateral movement across different roles and departments within an organization or even across different industries. One might move sideways, diagonally, or even downward to gain a variety of experiences and skills.

Career ladder versus career lattice

The key difference between a career ladder and a career lattice lies in the approach to career progression. A ladder suggests a singular focus on upward movement, typically within a specialized field. A lattice, however, encourages exploration and variety, offering the chance to acquire a broad range of skills and experiences.

Career Ladder Career Lattice
Linear progression Flexible progression
Upward movement Upward, sideways, or even downward movement
Specialization Variety and breadth of experiences
Usually within one organization Possibly across organizations or industries

Benefits of career ladders

Career ladders offer the security of a clear path and expected progression. They can provide motivation to aim for the next level, and they allow for depth of expertise in a specific area.

Benefits of career lattices

Career lattices offer the advantage of flexibility and breadth of experience. They support the development of a diverse skill set and can lead to unforeseen opportunities and career paths. They are well-suited to today's dynamic work environment where cross-functional skills are highly valued.

Choosing between career ladder and lattice

Whether a career ladder or a career lattice is right for you will depend on various factors. These may include your personal career goals, your appetite for risk and change, and the industry in which you work. Some people may find that they start on a career ladder but then transition to a lattice as they seek varied experiences and challenges.

The future of career ladders and lattices

With the evolving nature of work, some argue that the career ladder is becoming outdated and that the lattice is the future. However, both models have their place and can be beneficial depending on individual circumstances and career aspirations.

Ultimately, understanding the concepts of career ladders and career lattices, and the differences between them, can help you make informed decisions about your career development. It's all about finding the path that aligns with your skills, interests, and long-term goals.

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