Lattice = Happy At Work

American feel cruddy about their jobs.

And that’s not me talking: that’s from the latest Gallup Wellbeing Index, which reports that employees are in a continuing funk.

That’s not good for employers, because workers who don’t care about their jobs are a drag on productivity, not to mention morale.

Plenty of factors need to turn around to perk things up — big, big factors like economic growth. But there’s one thing that bosses can do right away: to get more things done, understand how important it is to workers to get things done.

Harvard business school prof Teresa Amabile operates in the world of everyday work dynamics. I’m a fan of her work because she unlocks big ideas from insights that resonate with all of us. Some of her recent research pivots on the point that productive people find satisfaction in the process of getting stuff done. Bosses who want greater productivity need to actively remove barriers to daily accomplishments. It’s not the flowery praise or the sugary doughnut that prompts top performers to buckle down and get stuff done: they are motivated by the satisfaction of actually seeing the stuff get done.

This insight can help managers who are looking for ways to ensure that lateral moves are meaningful and developmental. Lateral moves are still shaking off the outdated image that moving over is moving aside.

As you are framing a lateral move, consider: what will the person in this new position actually get done? How will this position fuel this person’s innate desire to be productive, and how will he measure his effectiveness? Lateral moves need to deliver their own rewards. Otherwise, your attempt to recast lateral  moves as growth will ring hollow.

Education + Lattices = Growing Cities

I’m of the opinion that the Opinion section is the best part of the Chicago Tribune (and not just becuase it occasionally publishes my personal essays. Also not because one of the editorial page editors is my former neighbor Greg Burns, as fair a guy as you’ll ever meet. The Tribune is lucky to have him.)

Recently, a Tribune editorial reinforced the wisdom of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new plan to have each of the colleges in the city’s community college system collaborate with just one industry. The aim is to align each school’s curriculum with the skills that employers need immediately.

The editorial urges employers to get on board with this initiative. I’d add one more thing: that the colleges and industries also collaborate on career lattices to ensure that new grads have a plan to keep growing. Here’s a perfect example: The health information career lattice newly launched by my research partner, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.   Collaborative education is a start, not a destination.

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3 Reasons Why Lattices are Here to Stay

A good question popped up in yesterday’s Lattice webinar hosted by, 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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Raise Your Hand

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, most American employees are eager to learn new skills and take on new responsiblities. But about a third doubt that they will be able to make a lateral move at their current workplace.

Sometimes, a lateral opportunity comes disguised as a job that nobody else wants. If you are serious about ‘growing in place,’  consider taking on an orphan project. Such assignments are already on the radar with higher-ups — for the wrong reasons. You’ll get points for being willing to try, and more points for gaining traction with a problem that others have resisted.

This strategy worked for Michael Mogul, president of DJO Global, a medical device company. As he said in a recent profile in the New York Times of a management responsiblity thrust upon him, “That happened often in my career: I’d find something that needed fixing, raise my hand and be given the responsibility. I’d end up with more work, but it always helped my career.”

If the benefits of jumping in aren’t immediately obvious, talk it over with your boss, and possibly with another manager whose results will be affected by the adoption. Design a plan that includes skills or networking that you want to gain for your next career steps. That’s what they call a win-win.

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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.

Lattice Webinar for HR Staff Oct. 3!

How can career lattices help you bridget skills gaps today and tomorrow?

I’ll spell it out in an Oct. 3 webinar hosted by Sabrina McCoy, head of diversity for Chubb Insurance, will share the inside story of how that insurance giant has re-oriented its culture and talent development from very ladder to very lattice.

Sabrina and I have both latticed to advance our careers, so our own stories are Exhibit A. It’s free, so we hope you’ll join us!

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Bubbling to the Top at Coke

How did Katie Bayne rise to the executive suite at Coca-Cola?

By taking numerous lateral rotations in her 23 years. Now, she’s President and General Manager of Sparkling Beverages, thanks in part, she says, to her willingness to take a step over to gain critical experience.

According to her profile in the October 2012 issue of Marie Claire, Bayne knew that for Coke to take a risk on giving her charge of a line of business, she had to take a risk too: trusting that by accepting a position in a different country, she wouldn’t be abandoned or forgotten, and that the company would recognize the results she delivered.

Key to Bayne’s zig-zag career path was her willingness to relocate overseas. Other international companies also blend lateral and international moves. In The Career Lattice, I showcase the career paths of Chubb Insurance executives to rotate through several international and domestic experiences at the same level to gain a step up.

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Lattice to Entrepreneurship – Oct. 3 Workshop!

Tempted to chuck it all and start over fresh? New business, new industry, new possibilities!

Don’t! Building on what and who you know in your current industry is the single strongest business start-up success factor. And that’s not me talking: that’s the Wharton School of Business, which analyzed small business success rates, drawn from data collected by the Kauffman Foundation.

You can get the best of both worlds by detecting a sweet spot that represents a fresh take and a new horizon of options, while bridging from your current staff position.

I’ll spell it out, step by step, on Oct. 3 at the Women’s Business Development Center, 8 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. In just one morning, you’ll build a plan that plots your steps from where you are now to where you want to be — making the most of your proven strengths, contacts, and industry knowledge. Sign up soon — I know this is filling up because I spoke with several women who are coming, at last week’s Entrepreneurial Women Conference. The $25 fee is a small price to pay for detecting your surest chance of entreprenerial success!

Photo courtesy of Morguefile contributor kconnors.


Celebrating with a Lattice Quilt!

Nobody writes a book alone. I was very fortunate to work with Kristen McGuire, a crack researcher who is essential to the success of our ongoing projects for the accounting, transportation, and other industries.

Kristen fact-checked, verified, corrected, cajoled and encouraged me during the creative and reporting process, and helped keep us on track through copy editing and proofing.

At our book launch party in Chicago in June, I thanked her with a lattice quilt that I designed and stitched in the fortuitious six-week gap between submitting the manuscript and seeing the first round of copyedits. Here she is, surprised at her cozy lattice thank-you!

Money Workers…Yes, the Career Lattice is for You, Too

New grads are jazzed about careers in money management, alternative investments, and accounting…and they should be. Careers in finance typically involve the ultimate validation of performance: the bottom line.

Yet, these career paths are often volatile. Wall St. has of late become a parade of box-carrying laid-off workers, and corporate types often find that they are lumped in as overhead, vulnerable to staff layoffs.

How does the career lattice pay off for money workers? Julie Steinberg of Dow Jones’ FINS network outlines the big picture in her Q&A with me on June 18. Here’s one more tip, customized from The Career Lattice: make the most of the performance meter of documented financial results you have captured. Many staffers have a hard time quantifying proof of their performance. That’s usually not a problem fo money workers.

As you build case studies that show you in action, set up these short narratives with a financial goal. Then show — in two sentences — the steps you took to achieve that goal. End with the goal, achieved, in a number.

Did you identify tax advantages that resulted in a net gain of $2 million to your employer’s net revenue? Uncover an obscure opportunity in a hot commodity that scored a big return? Simultaneously keep the lid on operating costs while balancing a portfolio to deliver consistent results despite industry turmoil? Short stories like these tell potential employers — inside your current organization and outside — how you think…in words and in numbers.