Career Lattice vs Career Ladder

Last week when the guest speaker in my Organizational Behavior class mentioned “career lattice”, I saw many quizzical expressions on my student’s faces. I realized, where other industries have adopted this method of talent development and retention, the healthcare industry largely lags. Part of the reason is the level of specialization, training, and even licensure requirements in certain roles. Certain skills need to be honed over time and you get better at your “trade” the longer time you spend in it. This can and has, however, led to burnout in many healthcare professionals leading to a talent drain. Healthcare is now one of the largest employers in the country, so it is time we paid attention to breaking stereotypes. The hierarchical career ladder has always been around and may have worked well in the past. But as more and more professionals look towards versatile and rewarding careers, while still maintaining a semblance of balance and flexibility, the concept of a career lattice makes much more sense that it ever has. The other limiting factor is our definition of career growth. We mostly tie it to a title or compensation, making it very prescriptive and limiting our options. But how about expanding your professional toolkit or repertoire, getting outside your comfort zone to challenge your abilities, utilizing your skills and experience in a different area – is that not a growth opportunity? Sometimes to take a step ahead, you may need to take a few steps back or sideways!

Though it may not be applicable in some specialized niches, it is important that healthcare organizations explore and adopt the concept where high potential employees are given growth opportunities to explore other roles and develop new competencies. We know that changing an individual’s attitude or behavior based on an organization’s culture is a much harder journey than teaching new skills and competencies. They why lose a professional who has become an integral part of the organization due to a lack of opportunities? In some industries, it is the norm for professionals to remain in their roles only for a couple years before they move into another role. This enhances employee engagement, retention and loyalty, while ensuring a steady pipeline of motivated individuals within the organization to fill critical vacancies. It also significantly reduces the costs associated with recruitment. What are some best practices that healthcare can adopt? Most healthcare organizations are accustomed to matrix structures, so opportunities are plentiful.

When I look at my own career path, it has certainly been a lattice. I planned to get to the “top” and the quickest way was the hierarchical ladder. It was a competitive rat race. I wanted to remain in hospital operations as that was the world I knew, loved and thrived in. I exceled and did achieve my career goals becoming a hospital CEO. But that also got me to a crossroads in my personal life. I loved my work, but I also loved my growing family and had to make some difficult career choices to give both my best. What I have learned through my experience is to keep your options open and never be afraid to take risks. The adage “greater the risk, greater the reward” maybe cliched but is so true! What I feared to have been career suicide (stepping down from my first CEO role) launched my career into a very different and equally rewarding path! So, whether your organization supports a career lattice or not, don’t be wary to explore it in your own career journey and seek out opportunities that help round your experiences and not typecast you or limit your options. Be creative and enjoy the journey. It is not a race so why not take the scenic route?

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