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Career Ladders & Career Lattices: Developing Them at Your Company

In the professional world, the concept of climbing the career ladder is a common reference. The terms career ladder and lattice refer to tools that your business can use to help your employees advance their careers in a meaningful way.

What is the difference between career ladders and career lattices, and how can you develop and incorporate them into your company policy? Whether it’s a set of vertical steps (career ladder) or rungs that go in horizontal and vertical directions (career lattice), these two practical talent management strategies can provide employees with an incentive to go above and beyond their best abilities.

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Definition of career lattices and ladders

Understanding the differences between these two strategies can help you form and implement an employee development plan that works best with your business model and your workforce. Let’s take a closer look at the definition of a career lattice and ladder, along with some examples of each.

Career ladder

A career ladder lets people advance within their careers in a uniform, linear way. This term refers to the way most employees naturally progress throughout their careers as they transition from one position to another.

In career ladder examples, people move up in their jobs as a result of tenure, getting a positive review from management or simply by filling a vacant position thanks to their experience in the company. The goal is to climb to the top of the ladder to reach a senior position that offers more responsibility and more pay.

Since the career ladder is a set of linear moves, people tend to build their skills so that they can move onto a new, higher-paying position. With a career ladder development plan, employees can work toward a single goal by focusing on improving their skill set and learning new things as they progress upward.

Career lattice

A career lattice, on the other hand, is a more flexible path of progression where employees can use their skills and experience in a variety of ways.

Instead of a “one size fits all” approach, the career lattice encourages workers to try new things and explore more options to determine which position they’d be the best at as they progress. In fact, many employees may learn skills that aren’t related to their current position. By moving forward, up and even backward, the career lattice gives people a chance to see more aspects of the company and how it operates.

It also takes employees’ personal lives into account and gives them more control and flexibility over their futures. This can be beneficial to employees who aren’t sure what position they want until they’ve tried a variety of tasks and learned more skills.

Benefits of a career ladder and career lattice

Here are some of the benefits of offering the career ladder and lattice methods of career mapping to your employees:

  • A career ladder method gives people the chance to progress in their careers through hard work, diligence and dedication.
  • Career lattices are a good way to give employees a chance to learn something new or try a new position that they may be better suited for.
  • A lattice development plan works best for those who need flexibility in their schedules or who want to learn new skills in different departments.
  • Using a career ladder plan can be a good incentive that encourages your employees to excel and strive toward an important goal.
  • Each of these strategies can increase company morale, improve employee retention and set clear goals and expectations for each individual.

Tips and best practices for implementing ladders and lattices at a small business

If you don’t currently have a career ladder or lattice development plan in place, here are some tips and best practices to help you incorporate them into your company:

  • Offer interactive training to your employees so that large groups of people can be trained all at once. This is also a helpful and effective way to train those who are working remotely or are in different countries or time zones.
  • Incorporate games, quizzes and simulations into your training to confirm that your employees are actually learning new skills and putting them into practice. This technique also helps your employees develop their skills in a realistic, real-world setting.
  • Consider including on-the-job training as part of your comprehensive training and development program. Allowing people to learn skills in a hands-on way makes it easier for them to progress and feel confident as they move up the ladder or throughout the lattice.
  • Make the path toward career advancement clear for your employees. For example, offer predetermined pay raises or changes in position after they complete certain types of training or work a specific amount of time.
  • Tweak your training and development program as you go and be prepared to adapt to changing needs. Whether you update your training requirements or change the parameters for people to receive raises or promotions, staying flexible is key.
  • Ask your staff what their personal and professional goals are. Take the time to really listen to each individual so that they’re getting the help they need to succeed and move upward.

Career ladders and career lattices FAQs

What is the difference between a career path and a career ladder?

A career path refers to a timeline or goal that an individual employee has regarding the advancement of their career. For example, someone who starts out as a front office administrative assistant may want to learn to code so that they can progress toward a more fulfilling career in information technology. The career path gives employees a personal goal to achieve, and it often involves them moving from one company to another. Following a career path means that someone follows a sequential pattern of jobs that eventually develops and morphs into a long-lasting and successful career.

A career ladder, on the other hand, is a company’s own employee development program that’s uniquely tailored to a specific business. This term refers to a set of parameters that a company sets forth to help it determine how employees will advance up the ladder. As people improve or progress, they move up the rungs of the ladder until they reach a higher position or the position that they want the most.

What are the five stages of career development?

While everyone will have a unique path as they move through their careers, there are five basic stages of career development:

  1. Exploration: During this stage, young and mostly new employees are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Employees may move from job to job fairly quickly until they find one that suits them the best. People who are transitioning from college to the working world are typically in the exploration stage.
  2. Establishment: The establishment stage of career development is when someone starts getting serious about finding a long-term job. During this stage, employees are still learning as they begin to take on more responsibilities. This is a time when workers are willing to tackle more challenges and develop their skills in order to advance or progress toward a higher position.
  3. Mid-Career: When employees reach this stage, many tend to become stagnant in terms of their performance. Perhaps the employee is happy with their current position and simply relies on their job to pay the bills so that they have consistency and stability. Other people in the mid-career stage may be contemplating how they can develop new skills or try to learn a new position in order to advance in their job.
  4. Late Career: In the late-career stage, workers are happy and content with their current roles. They may take advantage of their position and reputation by offering training to new employees or serving as a mentor to others in the company. In some cases, an employee in this stage could fill an empty position after someone else retires or leaves the company.
  5. Retirement: The last stage of career development is when someone prepares for retirement. After many years of service to their employer, people at this stage are getting ready to say goodbye to the working world.

Which one is better for my business: career ladders or career lattices?

It’s up to you to determine which method of career development is best for your business. With the career ladder strategy, you can develop a strict set of parameters that dictates how your employees progress. They must meet these goals and standards before they can move into a different and better position.

The career lattice method is more flexible and gives employees the chance to determine which position is right for them. It’s a good way to allow talented people to move and grow along with your company, improve morale and give employees more options when it comes to advancing their careers.

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