We think of careers like ladders, don’t we? And when careers do not go straight up the ladder, we do not see them as (good) careers. But if you are in the business of providing talent this is a tradition that may need to be replaced by innovation. Replacing the traditional ladder with a lattice has led to significant improvements according to Cathy Benko, chief talent officer for Deloitte.

At the 2011 World Conference on Mass Customization, Personalization and Co-Creation in San Francisco one of the themes was Mass Customization Thinking. You would think we were to learn about customers the traditional way, but Cathy Benko, one of the speakers and vice chairman and chief talent officer for Deloitte U.S. immediately widened the scope when talking about recruitment strategy and employment policy. If you want to be innovative you need individuals thinking and being innovative.

Did the innovation lead to company improvement? Yes, the company has registered increased loyalty, increased productivity, lower cost plus more satisfied employees.

Five to six years ago Deloitte had 69 different in-house flexibility programs to manage. Moreover, they noticed that the balance between genders was difficult to maintain. Being convinced that gender diversity was important for innovation, and also gradually realizing that it was probably neither effective nor efficient to manage 69 programs, they decided something creative and innovative had to be done. Why not customize careers?

Demographics are changing

According to Benko, they started by looking into demographics and found major changes going on. In the US less than one fifth of the families are so-called traditional ones. More and more women are employed. And, more and more men claim that they want to devote time to children under the age of 18. Deloitte also found in as much as 40 percent of the families worldwide the woman is the primary income provider. In addition, they found the growth rate of the working population is slowing down and more and more jobs are really so new – many not even invented yet – that most people lack adequate education for the particular job. So maybe we need to be less traditional and more innovative in order to recruit talent to our company?

Organizational changes over time

Next Deloitte looked into the organization. They found that hierarchies have flattened over recent years in many organizations. In most companies there are substantially fewer organizational layers. Routine tasks are dropping and become replaced by non-routine tasks. The latter require intellectual and innovative talent and skill to an extended degree. Technology is automating more of the routine jobs. People are also working outside the offices more and more, in fact they found that many office facilities are not used because the employee would be working from home, from an airport or from a café. Deloitte became even more convinced that a paradigm shift was needed.

The work career paradigm is the corporate ladder on which you climb. But what if your employees have another paradigm, that of the wider concept life career? Well, then there are many more measures of success than only work career. That became the input into the creation of what Deloitte has named the career lattice.

Career lattice instead of career ladder

Deloitte developed a totally new and innovative way of providing a career for their employees. It builds on three main pillars: full-time or part time employed; a more restricted or less restricted work task; leader responsibilities or individual provider.

As an employee, you can interact with your employer to design your life career dynamically over time – a customized career – that may have a zigzag shape! At any point in time there are as many careers as there are employees in Deloitte. Did the innovation lead to company improvement? Yes, the company has registered increased loyalty, increased productivity, lower cost plus more satisfied employees.

By Helén Anderson

About the author

Dr. Helén Anderson is professor in Business Administration at Jönköping International Business School and presently a visiting scholar at SCANCOR, Stanford University. Her current research is focused on the market dynamics of business relationship, and on how new technology makes its way to the buyer and user.