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March 02, 2017 Practice Points

Career Progression: Moving Sideways and Diagonally to Move Forward

By Lauren Fenton-Valdivia

Nneka Orji’s recent article on, “Career Progression – Moving Sideways and Diagonally to Move Forward,” contemplates whether an unconventional career path, i.e., one which deviates from the normal corporate ladder, has the potential for creating a more fulfilling and sustainable career. Orji explains that while the typical career path previously only saw progression up the corporate ladder, changing times, including advancements in technology, the need for a greater work/life balance and a different perception of career “success,” ensure that new career paths are being recognized and appreciated.    

Orji cites to a recent article entitled, “The Corporate Lattice,” which envisions the current career landscape as being one in which an employee moves in an adapted and lateral manner, one which suits itself to that individual’s career needs and choices. “Rather than focus on the next rung of the hierarchy, the lattice structure enables individuals to take on roles outside their immediate business areas—through secondments, international transfers, sabbaticals, and many other routes.”   

While some employers have embraced the changing corporate culture and relevant needs, other employers are hesitant to incorporate these “career redesigns” into their own model. As Orji notes, however, the employer who refuses to acknowledge and accept the changing corporate landscape risks losing its ability to retain its workforce and faces potential frequent workforce upheavals. According to a Bentley University study, millennials (predicted to make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025) are likely to depart employers who fail to provide flexibility in their careers. If, however, employers encouraged lateral transitions inside the organization to adapt to their employees’ needs, the employer would retain its talent and reduce the higher costs associated with looking outside the organization for talent. Orji argues that women (who still tend to be the default caretaker), especially benefit from the lattice approach because they are then permitted to move laterally and gather relevant experience, rather than wait their turn for an open position up the ladder.

Finally, Orji sets forth a blueprint for employees seeking to move on the corporate lattice—plan, act, and communicate. Orji advises the employee to (1) develop a plan based on the employee’s subjective needs with a clear understanding of the desired outcome and potential end point, (2) act on the plan, while selectively choosing which external feedback is helpful towards the employee’s ultimate goals, and (3) communicate and articulate how the unconventional career choice was a valuable experience. Orji concludes that the lattice approach will eventually be the norm, and that lateral career moves will be recognized as “just as valuable, if not more so,” than upward career progression.

Of note is that Orji’s recognition of the changing corporate landscape and its benefits for women is shared by recognized female activist and Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg. In her renowned book “Lean-in,” Sandberg discusses the very same concept, referring to the “lattice” instead as a “jungle gym,” and further describes that “jungle gym scramble” as the best description of her career. 

Ultimately, there appears to be no question that the corporate lattice is replacing the proverbial corporate ladder. And, fortunately, it is a change that women can embrace and use to advance their careers.

Lauren Fenton-Valdivia is an attorney at Bressler, Amery & Ross P.C. in New York, New York.

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