At a recent conference of executive search firms, a presenter described a concept that made great sense to me. Instead of looking at our careers as ones that must only go up a ladder (or down real fast), we should instead look at the fact that careers almost always move sideways and backward along the way. These other moves can position an executive to again begin moving up, but the lattice concept allows one to rationally consider alternatives to having to move straight up or move out.

During the ACHE Congress in March 2009, a session was devoted to successful careers and, as the moderator and panelists described their careers and their experience with others, it became clear to me that the “career lattice” concept might have traction. So, I asked two questions –

Do they agree that we should refer more often to a “career lattice” rather than career ladder?

The answer seemed to be, yes.

The second question related to the expectation of senior hiring managers and CEO search committees, which are made up of board members.  Most of the CEO profiles that I have helped write have clearly focused on candidates who have had progressively successful careers – with no exceptions. So, if we are in agreement that career lattice is more realistic in viewing candidates, are those who are in positions of selecting senior executives ready to move away from the traditional expectation of seeing only candidates that have consistently moved up the career ladder?

That answer was not as clear. One person felt that the tide was changing a bit. 

My guess is that we all are going to have to continuously educate hiring managers. “A” players are not defined as only those who have climbed that career ladder unimpeded. Many executives have made deliberate choices to move their careers sideways or backward for personal reasons, but are now ready to move up. They are no less an “A” player.

Let’s work together to change from career ladder and accept the more realistic career lattice.