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What is a career lattice, and is it right for your business? [Advantages, limitations, and applications]


Career paths enable employees to advance professionally, gain new skills, and increase their compensation, but they’re more than just upward ladders.

Welcome to career lattices, a form of employee development that’s quickly gaining traction as the “new career ladder.”

Whereas a ladder is a ramp that you travel up via spokes, a lattice is a structure made of crisscrossing wooden bars. Rather than simply going up and down, you can follow the bars in any which direction and even make sharp turns along them.

Career lattices enable workers to take a multi-directional approach to career development, taking roles that are horizontal, vertical, or even diagonal from their current position. For example, a junior programmer moves laterally into a system administrator role.

Research shows that 89% of employees would consider making a lateral career move with no financial incentive.[1]

This approach attracts top talent and enriches a company with multi-talented individuals who have wider perspectives and more inside knowledge.

Are career lattices just a trend, or are they going to make career ladders obsolete for good?

We believe the two can co-exist. In fact, many career lattice models can simply be looked at as multiple connected career ladders in parallel.

This article discusses career lattices and their top advantages, as well as some examples of career lattices in different industries.

What is a career lattice?

A career lattice is a form of employee development similar to a career ladder. The primary difference is that employees don’t strictly move upwards; they can move upwards, laterally, or even downward.

The point of a career lattice isn’t rigid upward growth, its goal is to help employees develop professionally and build new skills in a way that’s most natural for them and the company.

Career path ladder lattice graphic

Lattice career development came about in 2008 with Deloitte’s Mass Career Customization framework. This plan aimed to map out the skills and roles its employees needed to grow. 

The company’s strategy was to find a method to help employees gain experience in other job roles without having to jump to a new company. Deloitte’s framework was the first to use the term “career lattice.”

It’s been a while since then, but career lattices are gaining traction quickly and are used by many organizations to help their employees achieve career goals. 

Increasingly, more human resources experts are also saying they’re the future of career growth, and that career ladders are obsolete.

We don’t believe that ladders are completely obsolete. The standard career lattice definition includes ladders, and many atypical career paths may include straight up and down movement.

However, even traditional, strict career ladders aren’t “dead.” Some industries, such as healthcare and the military, still rely on rigid vertical career advancement.

Career ladder vs. career lattice: What are the differences?

Differentiating career ladders and career lattices might be a little confusing at first, so let’s quickly clear it up:

  1. Career ladder: A type of linear career plan where an employee’s professional development progresses along a straight path.

  2. Career lattice: A type of development program where an employee progresses along different flexible paths in any direction they choose or need

Here’s a quick comparison between the two:

Career lattice

Career ladder

Career direction

Various, including upward, downward, horizontal, or diagonal


Growth opportunities

Employees have a hand in determining which path to take

Predetermined by company structure

Path goal

Building skills and developing a personalized journey

Pursuing managerial and leadership roles

It’s important to remember that many career ladders can be part of a career lattice.

Many positions will be part of a career path that’s the “default” for the current role. Employees can continue down that path if they’re content with it. 

However, they may have the option to explore positions in other departments of the company – and potentially follow the corresponding career ladder of that new role.

For our in-depth look at the subject, read our blog on career ladders.

If experts are projecting that career lattices will make traditional career growth obsolete, what makes this type of development special?

Let’s take a look at the main draws of career lattices for both employees and employers.

With employees

Many employees are proponents of lattice career development because this alternative, non-linear method of self-development offers workers a chance to build new skills and design a career path that suits them to a T.

Here are the top reasons employees love career lattices:

  • Is a personalized journey

  • Enables them to take on different roles and explore different avenues

  • Encourages the growth of varied skills sets

  • Promotes growth for employees that don’t want to pursue managerial and leadership duties

  • Enables employees to customize their work structure, increasing their engagement and productivity

  • Increases mentoring opportunities

  • Boosts satisfaction

  • Increases engagement

The future is focused on skills, and employees see career lattices as an opportunity to build a library of in-demand skills.

This increases their value to employers and boosts their self-confidence.

With employers

Employees aren’t the only ones to experience the advantages of career lattices.

Career lattices are an excellent way for employers to offer growth to all types of employees, increasing retention, satisfaction, and engagement.

It’s also important to note that since corporate lattices are important to employees, they’re a great way to attract new candidates.

Here are the top reasons employers love career lattices:

  • Increases retention and reduces turnover 

  • Attracts top talent

  • Encourages employees with varied skill sets 

  • Enables employees to explore what they’re good at, which increases overall performance

  • Promotes company growth, even when the organization doesn’t need new management

  • Increases employee engagement, which drives productivity

  • Boosts worker satisfaction, which increases performance and retention

But we won’t just leave it at that. Let’s take a deeper look into the far-reaching benefits of career lattices in the next section.

The advantages of using career lattices to guide career progression

Career lattices offer solid advantages to the companies that adopt them.

This type of career development is particularly useful for creative, marketing, tech, sales, and fintech industries, but can also be used for nearly any other industry as well.

Here’s a look at the top three reasons that career lattices benefit organizations.

Increases retention

A career lattice path boosts employee retention and reduces turnover.

Here are the three main reasons they help keep your employees at your company:

  1. They boost satisfaction, increasing the likelihood that employees will stay

  2. They’re a popular method of growth that many new hires are currently seeking

  3. Career ladders often lead to up-or-out thinking, with employees leaving the company to make the next step

3 reasons a career lattice benefits organizations graphic

That last point is crucial. Career ladders are rigid and linear. If employees are given limited options for their growth, they may believe the only way up is out.

For example, a content specialist wants to learn UX skills, but the only available option for growth is a content management position. To properly pursue their chosen path, they have to leave the company and find a new role.

This means that career lattices are also a great solution to talent hoarding.

Managers tend to hold on to rapidly developing employees for fear of losing a great member of the team. But they can be less worried about hoarding their talent when high-performing employees from other departments are growing laterally into their team.

This is a form of talent sharing, a great development strategy that solves talent hoarding, encourages employee growth, and boosts retention. For more insights, read our blog on talent sharing.

Promotes diverse growth

There’s an unfortunate lack of diversity in leadership. 

This is often used as a proponent of career ladders, such as some experts saying that career ladders help propel marginalized groups from individual contributors to leadership.[2]

But that’s only when there’s a deliberate effort for career ladders to move diverse employees to leadership positions, and that isn’t always the case.

In a recent post, Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, a leadership coach and strategic advisor, talks about the infamous “broken rung” in the career ladder for women and how career lattices can help.

Career lattices enable professional growth for marginalized workers, such as women and people of color.

Career lattices help promote promotion equity because:

  • They provide equitable access to skill-building and growth

  • Making a lateral move may get employees out of a situation that’s holding them back (such as a manager who is talent hoarding)

  • They help workers switch to career paths they love

An article on Forbes says that one of the top ways to fix the “broken rung” is to encourage people to pursue the fields they’re most passionate about instead of just sticking to the same linear path.

Carol ends her post with a powerful line:

“[T]he career lattice is the best choice to advance the career mobility of women in the workplace.” - Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, leadership coach and strategic advisor

Encourages curiosity and innovation

A linear path encourages employees to stick to the tried and true, but a lattice career promotes innovation and creativity.

Career lattices encourage adaptability, curiosity, and divergent thought – all points that nurture innovative thinking.

It’s difficult for an employee to think outside the box when they stay along a rigid, traditional path.

A real-life example of this is Reshma Ramachandran, a chief strategy and transformation officer. 

In a recent post on LinkedIn, Reshma says that her career lattice has benefitted her over a traditional corporate ladder in many ways, but specifically mentions curiosity and ambition.

Another example is W.L. Gore & Associates. This company prides itself on its use of a career lattice and specifically mentions the innovation and creativity it reaps because of it.

Our 6 career lattices examples (and how they’re implemented)

Career lattices are new and popular, but that doesn’t mean they’re just a trend.

Here’s a close look at six examples of career lattices and how they illustrate the ways they can work in real life.

Career lattice examples: A summary



Marketing industry

Career lattices give external and internal insights to marketing professionals

Tech industry

Atypical career growth helps solve the tech industry’s skill shortage

Financial services

Transferable skills make reskilling easy in the finance sector

Sales industry

Sales professionals can use career lattices to gain marketing expertise

Publishing industry

Career lattices give broad company insights to the publishing industry

Manufacturing industry

Lateral movement in the manufacturing industry builds skills and satisfies employee growth

Marketing industry

Many marketing professionals have nontraditional paths. The industry has many different, but still complementary, departments, so switching between them isn’t difficult.

A real-life example is Steven Galante, who started his career with a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in cinema studies. He got a job in media production, which led to experience in marketing, filmmaking, digital journalism, and live broadcast.[3]

His initial focus was on video production, but he then expanded into organizational leadership. He says that this start gave him inside knowledge that helps him understand what he wants his final products to be.

This broad knowledge of the industry helps marketing professionals understand their work both internally and externally.

For example, a career lattice might have an advertising manager move to a public relations manager position.

The employee wants to try new things, and the company can benefit by having the worker use their knowledge of advertising and the target audience to enhance the company’s public image.

As the employee makes the switch and undergoes training, you can monitor their progress and validate their new skills by assessing them with a Public Relations Manager test.

Then, after this employee has been working in this role for a few years, they can then move upward to director of public relations.

A career lattice enables employees to swap between the internal and external sides of an organization where a traditional career ladder wouldn’t.

This progression gives employees a chance to explore the company and grow new skills, but it also gives the company a public relations manager with insight into a different perspective.

Tech industry

Atypical careers and backgrounds are becoming more common in the tech sector. In fact, reskilling candidates with nontraditonal backgrounds is one of the main tactics being used to solve Indiana’s tech skills shortage.[4]

Many companies are hiring candidates with transferable skills or are looking for workers that have attended tech boot camps.

Career lattices are another way to solve the tech skills shortage.

For example, an employee could take a path from director of marketing, to chief marketing officer, to chief technology officer.

This employee can use their skills in research, analytics, and strategy to grow in the CTO position while still getting satisfaction from new challenges.

In fact, many leadership roles use similar skills, such as communication, business ethics, and adaptability. These are key skills found in leadership teams.

This path shows that career lattices can go in multiple directions along the employee’s career path, not just one way laterally or vertically. Going upward for part of your career and then making a switch later is a great way to build experience and skills.

Financial services

There are many common skills among finance professionals, so career lattices are easy and beneficial to adopt.

Skills such as accounting, management, financial analysis, problem-solving, and risk management are desirable in countless positions.

Let’s use the example of a career lattice taking an employee from business analyst to consultant.

Here’s a quick list of the top three consulting skills:

  1. Communication

  2. Problem-solving

  3. Project management

These are core skills for consultants, but they’re familiar to business analysts. This makes their development fluid, even if this path isn’t a traditional career ladder.

As the employee works towards this new position, they can build new skills as they rely on these core transferable skills. During this time, you can periodically evaluate them with our Project Management test to monitor their progress.

A real-life example of this is Manika Agarwal, a manager at the mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring practice at Deloitte.

Manika worked as both a business analyst and developer before expressing her interest in consulting with leadership. They encouraged Manika in her development, so she took a break to pursue an MBA.

After a four-year break, Manika returned and rejoined Deloitte as a consultant.[5]

This example shows how career lattices can be used in conjunction with rehiring former employees. 

Sometimes, an employee might leave your company to pursue new skills, experience, or education. If this employee returns, it’s a great opportunity to benefit from their newly obtained capabilities by putting them in a new but similar role.

For more information, read our guide on boomerang employees.

Sales industry

Sales is an industry with many opportunities for lattice careers.

Traditional career ladders aren’t necessary in an industry with so many core capabilities. Most sales professionals have skills in similar areas, such as negotiation and communication.

Let’s use an example career lattice for an entry-level sales position.

A sales support specialist undergoes a reskilling program and completes a Market Analysis test to move into a marketing associate position.

This path enables the worker to gain both sales and marketing experience for their future while still increasing their salary. It also enables them to take on brand-new challenges that are still within their general industry. 

After some time, when it’s time to advance again, this worker moves back into the sales team as a sales representative.

This path shows another kind of potential that career lattices have. 

It shows that moving laterally doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your other career path forever. Rather, you can temporarily dip into other sectors and then jump back into the original path with even more diversified skills and knowledge.

Publishing industry

The publishing industry requires that employees have knowledge about content, editing, brand voice, target audience, and strategy.

Most publishing roles have some level of knowledge on these topics, so training for a new position would be smooth and simple.

Let’s take a look at a career lattice in the publishing industry:

  • Writer / Editorial Assistant

    • Editor / Content Strategist / Project Manager

      • Head of Content / Head Editor 

        • Chief editor

These all require similar base skills, including content fluency, editing, marketing, and SEO knowledge. But this path creates a broader lattice that enables employees to explore their skills and develop unique competencies.

At the end of this particular path, the chief editor possesses writing skills, editing skills, and crucial marketing skills – giving them a wealth of inside knowledge to polish content and lead the editorial team.

They might even consider switching to a managerial position in the marketing team with their next career move.

This is an excellent example of why lattices are crucial for employee development.

Sometimes leadership positions require absolute knowledge of the company, so it’s valuable when someone has experience across varied positions – something that wouldn’t be possible with a fixed career ladder.

Manufacturing industry

The manufacturing industry thrives with branching, varied career lattices.

Lattice careers in manufacturing help spread technical knowledge and enhance current skill sets. Most positions also share skills and know-how about key concepts.

Let’s use an example career lattice in the manufacturing industry, such as an engineering technician that develops into an inspector, then later becomes a health and safety engineer.

The growth from technician to inspector isn't too atypical, but the movement from inspector to health and safety engineer is lateral. This growth expands the employee’s skill set in various ways.

  • Inspectors typically review building plans to ensure everything is up to code

  • Health and safety engineers review machinery and safety equipment to identify potential hazards

This bolsters the employee’s skill set and overall value, but it benefits the organization in a big way.

This gives the company a health and safety engineer with a broader understanding of inspection and safety and gives the employee a wider range of skills for their growth and professional future.

Lateral movement increases employee movement and growth without requiring constant raises and promotions.

It can be difficult to keep up with an employee's need for development, but lateral movement through a career lattice helps satisfy the need for mobility, challenges, and new skills efficiently.

And because career lattice paths help promote diversity and gender equality, it can be a great way for manufacturing companies to help solve STEM inequality.

The limitations of the career lattice

Career lattices are useful as well as popular and trendy. While many experts are saying career ladders are “on the way out,” lattices have drawbacks and don’t apply to all industries and positions.

Career ladders can’t be fully obsolete. Some industries rely on career ladders and simply cannot make a reasonable switch to career lattices.

For example, some industries are highly specialized and require years of training to go from one position to the next, making it difficult for employees to switch laterally. 

Healthcare is a solid example. A career lattice could be tricky due to the amount of time a person pours into a medical degree – moving in or out of this role would require a lot of time and commitment.

Healthcare is also a good example of why career ladders might be a better option. A nurse, for example, gains important competencies and skills along a linear ladder. Each rung prepares them for the next rung. It would be counterproductive to have an experienced nurse switch to IT – and especially so for the other way around.

Another example is the military. The military relies on career ladders to relay authority and obedience to its people. This structured ladder ensures that these workers are developing the right discipline to keep them safe during distressing times.

It’s also important to remember that career lattices and career ladders both fall under the same umbrella – career paths. When you view every option as a “career path,” it keeps your employees’ options open and helps you be flexible when needed.

This enables employees to combine different types of growth into a larger career path made up of career portfolios, lattices, and ladders.

For example, a food service employee uses their people skills to move into customer service – this type of career switch is part of a career portfolio.

From customer service, they move laterally into an administration role. After some time, they then move traditionally upward into an office administrator role.

Promote career lattices with skills-based hiring

Career lattice paths are currently trendy, but they’re more than that: They’re an excellent opportunity to expand employee growth, drive engagement, and improve retention.

Enabling employees to explore their careers in more ways than just upward helps your organization build crucial skills and fill positions with qualified people.

Switching from one role to another can be made easier with skills-based development strategies, such as measuring development progress with skills tests or simply having a skills-first mindset.

For more information on this topic, read our broad guide on career pathing.

To browse our database of more than 300 skills tests, check out our test library.


  1. "Developing Employee Career Paths and Ladders". SHRM. Retrieved July 13, 2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/developingemployeecareerpathsandladders.aspx 

  2. Helvey, Kirsten. (May 10, 2016). "Don’t Underestimate the Power of Lateral Career Moves for Professional Growth". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://hbr.org/2016/05/dont-underestimate-the-power-of-lateral-career-moves-for-professional-growth 

  3. Egan, Betty. (October 10, 2019). "A Typical Marketing Career Path? It’s Atypical". Southern New Hampshire University. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/career/marketing-career-paths 

  4. Trinkle, Dennis. (May 24, 2022). "How Skills-Based Hiring will help Resolve Indiana’s Biggest Tech Talent Challenges". TechPoint. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://techpoint.org/how-skills-based-hiring-will-help-resolve-indianas-biggest-tech-talent-challenges/ 

  5. "Carving a career with ‘cheer’leaders". (January 31, 2023). Deloitte. Retrieved July 24, 2023. https://www2.deloitte.com/ui/en/blog/life-deloitte-blog/2023/carving-career-with-cheerleaders.html 


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