The End of the Corporate Ladder
John Donovan, AT&T’s chief technology officer, created a mass participation approach to innovation that, by design, would not limit participation by the box occupied on the organization chart.
The process features a Web site that allows anyone (and Donovan is quick to underscore anyone) to contribute an idea, become a collaborator, or offer a challenge. “This is meritocracy at its best—a highly diverse set of people, in every sense of the word, crowd-sourcing and crowd-storming,” says Donovan. By the end of its third quarter, the site had more than twenty-four thousand members who generated two thousand ideas, and the first season’s winners have been funded and are prototyping their ideas.
Common to the lattice ways to build careers, work and participate is the enabler of a customized workplace that provides options for both employers and employees. Options create flexibility and adaptability. For individuals, options provide choices to integrate career and life. For employers, options provide a greater range of responses to the high rates of change and volatility in today’s business environment.
Combining the power of the lattice ways
Many companies have made some progress in at least one lattice way. But the majority of efforts remain piece meal, reactive and siloed. Lattice approaches are constrained by lingering ladder cultural norms, business rules and structures. By taking action on all three lattice ways and connecting them to each other, companies achieve a better payoff.
At Deloitte, for example, the benefits of combining lattice ways is apparent: Nearly 90% of those who perceive the three lattice ways in action are highly engaged. These employers are committed to going the extra mile to deliver results. By contrast, only 30% of those who did not perceive any lattice ways in their work experience are engaged.
"This is meritocracy at its best—a highly diverse set of people, in every sense of the word, crowd-sourcing and crowd-storming."
Cisco’s reinvention of itself after the dotcom bust exemplifies a lattice-in-action organization. Cisco adopted a system of councils and boards along with social media and other technologies to increase collaboration across organizational chart silos. It had to work hard to make this new model successful. “We discovered collaboration was different enough from how we used to operate that it wasn’t enough to just put good leaders on the councils,” says Randy Pond, executive vice president of operations, systems, and processes. “We needed to shift our cultural mind-set and provide more structure to support this change.”
A new model for developing careers at Cisco has also emerged to support the shift—one that emphasizes lateral as well as vertical moves to grow high-potential, next-generation leaders with a broad understanding of different areas of the business. And options for integrating career and life have expanded as flexible work becomes the norm.
These efforts showcase how being a lattice-in-action organization can contribute to remarkable results. Cisco emerged from the recession of the early 2000s more profitable than ever, and it became one of the top one hundred largest companies in the world in market capitalization and revenue.
The old ladder belief that high performance and sustainable career-life fit are opposing forces is giving way to the new lattice reality: The two are mutually reinforcing — and inextricably linked. A lattice model is key to adapting to and tapping into the power of this shift.
Cathy Benko, vice chairman and chief talent officer, Deloitte LLP, and Molly Anderson, director, talent, Deloitte Services LP, are co-authors of The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work (Harvard Business Press, 2010)