The End of the Corporate Ladder
Guest Author Blog: Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson, Authors, The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work.
The phrase “9 to 5” more aptly describes a campy 1980s filmthan the workplace today.
Globalization and technology are creating more virtual and dispersed teams, yet management practices haven’t kept pace.
One indicator—forty percent of offices typically sit vacant each day, a savings potential unrealized in many companies. The shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge one also means that 21st century work is less routinized and repetitive.
Project work, for example, has increased forty fold over the last two decades. Organizational hierarchies have changed over the same time as well with twenty-five percent fewer rungs for upward advancement.
Collectively, these changes are collapsing the corporate ladder model that was the dominant structure for work in the 20th century.
Performance and productivity today are more dependent on a highly educated workforce that is profoundly different from the one in place when the ladder model evolved.
Today fewer than 1 in 5 households have a full time spouse who works outside the home and a full time spouse who tends the homefront.
Women are now half the workforce in the U.S. and they are the primary breadwinner in almost 40% of families.
Men’s share of housework and child care is rising, and along with it, their work-life conflict which now ranks higher than women’s in dual career couples.
From Boomers to Gen X to Millenials, each generation is expressing that flexibility and career-life fit are a priority. Add to this mix the complexity of an increasingly multi-cultural workforce, and it becomes clear that workers’ needs, expectations and definitions of success simply don’t match those of the homogeneous workforce of days gone by.
Enter the Corporate Lattice
Lattice organizations are not simply reacting to these forces but rather are redesigning the foundations of work itself.
In the process, they are customizing the workplace to deliver both high performance for their shareholders and sustainable career–life fit for their talent. “More flexible ways to work are a path to better performance, to better productivity, to better returns for the corporation,” says Xerox chairman Anne Mulcahy . “This is a way of improving business results rather than just a way to accommodate employees’ personal lives.”
In mathematics, a lattice allows for movement in all directions and each point can connect to all others, much like a high speed network. In organizations, the corporate lattice describes careers that can develop in multiple directions; work that has an array of options for how it is performed; and participation in solving problems and generating ideas that moves from top down to all in. We call these the “lattice ways.”
Lattice ways to build careers offer multiple paths for learning and growth. “Every function used to have narrow jobs with narrow progression structures,” says Mike Davis, senior vice president of global human resources at General Mills . “Now we’re seeing much more mixing and matching — cross-functional assignments, cross-country assignments, people taking time off for personal leaves and then coming back. It’s really quite varied.” Lattice organizations provide custom careers, enabling mobility across a variety of work experiences, and engaging employees so they do their best work. Employees also become more versatile, and that helps the company adapt more quickly to change.
Lattice ways to work rewrite the ladder notions of when, where, and how work gets done.
Technology is a critical enabler.
But mindset, management practices, and culture are just as important. Lattice ways to work focus on results and accountability. “Face time as a means to measure productivity of knowledge workers is becoming less and less relevant,” says Tanya Clemons, senior vice president and chief talent officer at Pfizer. “Management-by-walking-around measures are being replaced with means that more accurately measure contributions, including accomplishments relative to goals and team feedback and results.”
Companies that adopt lattice ways to work are achieving higher performance.
BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY BY 25%
Frontier Communications chairman and CEO Maggie Wilderotter notes that thirty percent of Frontier’s customer service agents are working from home, and, on average, these workers are 25 percent more productive than those who work in call centers. Retention of work-at-home agents is also double that of agents who work at the center.
Lattice ways to participate invite, welcome, and expect ideas from everyone, regardless of position on the organizational chart — and companies that do so reap greater innovation as a result. They also cultivate a culture of transparency, essential for creating trust among diverse and distributed groups.