The corporate ladder is redundant
The corporate ladder – that icon of career progress – would seem to have had its day with future workplace ‘stars’ making their difference by moving sideways as well as up. The conventional ladder model, where people move up a step/promotion at a time dates from the industrial revolution and has served its purpose where economies of scale, standardisation and mass production are the organisational focus.
The world is already different to this in many millions of organisations and will be increasingly so. Agility, flexibility and nimbleness will be the order of the day, allowing organisations to be more responsive to the climate in which they operate and the opportunities that emerge. Similar attributes will be needed in the workforce too – the ability to flex, to acquire new skills, to generate and get comfortable with constant change, to go where one is needed in the organisation even if that isn’t your job. It suggests a career path that is no longer a straight line, upward trajectory.
Workforce demands freedom…
For leaders this future may look exciting and scary by equal measure. On the one hand, creating the culture that appeals to a far more demanding millennial workforce who want greater freedom, less control and a purpose they believe in is part of the challenge. Set this alongside older workers who are used to a more structured environment with a clear hierarchy and well-defined authorities and ‘rules’ and we have a potential clash.
Yet the hierarchical and highly structured model is dissolving – hastened by technology and connectivity for sure, but also because it doesn’t serve the ability to respond in a less certain, increasingly complex business environment. It’s been estimated that companies have flattened out by around 25% over the past 25 years, with several layers of management taken out. This means easier access to, and greater exposure for, the leaders of the organisation.
So, as leaders, we really need to be thinking about our future leadership practices and how to create a workplace that will accommodate increasingly diverse age groups, talents and ways of working, opening up career paths and opportunities that encourage people to stay and grow with the organisation
Creating space for intrapreneurs…
For younger workers this will be about a more intrapreneurial style of working – allowing people to act like entrepreneurs within the business; direct access to the most senior management to put ideas forward and then take ownership of the projects. It’s also about growth through moving between teams, work streams and departments, acquiring new skills and broader perspectives. This more fluid approach will benefit the individual and the business.
And, whilst this zig-zag career build may likely feel alien to our longer-established people they have a vital role, not least in helping younger colleagues develop. As leaders we have a responsibility to help our more mature and/or more change averse colleagues transition into this new world, to help them appreciate the value they can add and to support them in learning to add that value in different ways