Twenty-Something Career Wisdom

Baby boomers, listen up: the things that annoy you about how Millennials manage their careers are exactly what you need to emulate.

They don’t stick around. They get training on their own terms — inside work or outside — and use it to cherrypick the best new jobs — yeah, before you even hear about them. They’re ok with cycling in and out of staff jobs, freelancing, and contract work. They align their careers where their values are — that’s right, they’ll work harder for less, if they believe in the cause.

Gee, this is sounding kinda of like the career aspirations that boomers had, oh, about 40 years ago when they  were the newest kids at work!

No less a luminary than CNN’s Ali Velshi has detected millennials’ propensity to lattice from the start. The best insight from his recent Money magazine article about how millennials are managing over as much as up:  “Focus on the experience, not on the job itself.”  You won’t be around for long, they figure, so why not make a run for a job that expands your skills in a totally new direction? Not a bad thought for a new year.

Why the Lattice, Now?

That’s one of the main questions that career coach and radio show host Bonnie Marcus had for me in a recent interview for her show Career GPS.

It’s a good question. Immersed as we all are in economic uncertainty, concerned about the stability of our companies and of our careers, it’s easy to overlook the sweeping realignment that is crystallized in the lattice.

Three long-term trends are aligning to replace career ladders with career lattices.

  • Baby boomers have to stay on the job longer, effectively blocking promotions for 40-somethings. Strategic lateral moves can equip valued middle managers with operational experience while they wait for promotions  to open up.
  • Boomers themselves are finding satisfaction in late-career lateral moves. Some progressive companies, like Time Warner Cable, create internal consulting or project-based positions for pre-retirees. That creates a channel for sluicing the boomers’ knowledge back into training, talent development, and information systems, while opening up operational slots for rising managers.
  • Millennials, observing the two trends outlined above, assume that their careers will be just as much over and up. And, that feels right to them, the first workforce generation steeped in social media. They already know the power of peer relationships; latticing gives them a career structure for the connections and opportunities they gather through social media.

3 Reasons Why Lattices are Here to Stay

A good question popped up in yesterday’s Lattice webinar hosted by Monster.com, the online recruiting supersite: Are lattices mainly relevant for a slow-growth economy, or will they evaporate once economic recovery truly takes hold?

Lattices are here to stay. Here’s why.

The traditional ‘ladder’ rewards managing vertical relationship. Your boss manages you. You manage your boss. You manage your subordinates. Your subordinates manage you. But peer relationships are the currency of the connected economy. From social media to peer lending to peer services, such as Air BnB,  economic relationships are realigning over.  Career relationships must follow suit, tapping a whole new arena of peer power for networking and growth.

The next era of growth won’t be like the last one. Organizations will have to quickly muster teams, and the teams that can get products to market first and best will be comprised of multi-faceted individuals. Sure, you’ll still need some tech geniuses, but those tech  geniuses will be worth more if they also have a working knowledge of marketing and customer service.  Lateral rotations within teams will become a key career driver; that’s how individuals will plot and pursue their next positions — lateral or not.

Employers like Chubb Insurance, represented for the Monster webinar by AVP of diversity and inclusion Sabrina McCoy, have handed career direction to employees, asking them to find and win lateral developmental moves as well as traditional promotions. Once that power is delegated, companies can’t take it back.

The future is latticed. Lattice….or let go.

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The Bumper Sticker for the New Career Rules

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently outlined the ‘new rules” for continual career advancement:  work harder, regularly reinvent yourself, obtain at least some form of postsecondary education, be engaged in lifelong learning. “That’s not a bumper sticker,” he concludes, “but we terribly mislead people by saying otherwise.”

He’s right about the new rules. But he’s wrong about the bumper sticker. We do indeed have one, and that is: “over is the new up.”

Lateral career strategies have been overlooked for so long that we’ll forgive Mr. Friedman. The ‘ladder’ culture is so entrenched in American culture that any career movement outside the traditional ‘up or off’ norm leaves people — even celebrity columnists — groping for a snappy slogan.

Career Lattice to the rescue! We multitasked with snappy sayings and substantive strategies, all at the same time.