Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Tuesday, August 28 2012
Joanne Cleaver, Author of “The Career Lattice: Combat Brain Drain, Improve Company Culture and Attract Top Talent”
Joanne Cleaver is a business journalist whose work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, Working Woman, Entrepreneur and Working Mother, among other publications. She recently published a book entitled “The Career Lattice: Combat Brain Drain, Improve Company Culture and Attract Top Talent” with McGraw Hill. The lattice is about continual career growth and development; it is not defined by aimless sideways changes, work-life solutions or disguising subpar performance. It is not about going up the ladder in the traditional sense but by stretching the ladder sideways and making lateral moves. Career lattices were pioneered in the 1970s and 1980s by educators and fully developed in the 2000s by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
Cleaver also has a fast-growing strategic communication consulting firm, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., and her clients include Comcast, Time Warner, The Principal and Avon. She and her husband put three daughters through college and now live in Chicago.
Womenetics: How does the career lattice mark the death of the traditional career path of climbing the corporate ladder?
Joanne Cleaver: In a slow-growth economy, ladders just don't work because there are not enough straight-up promotions for everyone. But employees want to keep growing professionally, and employers need to evolve talent so that they have the skills they need for emerging growth opportunities. Strategic lateral moves keep employees gaining skills and experience, with purpose, though they stay at the same level.
Womenetics: Does the career lattice also mark the end of the company man or woman?
Cleaver: Oh, I think the obit was written long ago for the company man (or woman). It used to be that a company would likely outlive any one employee. Now, the rate of change is so rapid that each of us is likely to outlive our current employer...or, our employers will change so much that they essentially are new companies anyway.
Womenetics: Under the career lattice, it seems that there’s a lot more pressure on HR managers to discover new talents and look at candidates in a new way. Do HR managers have time for that?
Cleaver: Everybody has to make time for charting new career paths. The message of “The Career Lattice” is that you, yourself, must figure out how you can grow laterally so that you have the skills and experience for tomorrow's jobs. Team leaders can “grow their own” talent by supporting employees' growth through cross-functional responsibilities. The most recent Accenture “Skills Gap Study” found that 68 percent of workers know it's up to them to chart their next career steps. Certainly, HR needs to foster latticing and lead the way, but the whole point is that individuals gain the career skill of seeing and pursuing lateral growth opportunities.
Womenetics: How can seasoned workers adapt to this new approach of progressing laterally?
Cleaver: By the time you've got 20-plus years of experience, you've probably had a few lateral moves. Audit your experience: How did you make the most of your lateral moves, and how can you squeeze more from them in the future? Build case studies and stories that show how lateral moves have prepared you for greater success in subsequent promotions and share your insights with those you mentor.
Womenetics: You wrote about employees looking for lattice-minded organizations to work for. How would one find them or know them when they see them?
Cleaver: Here's a simple and powerful litmus test, courtesy of Chubb Insurance, which has been very open about its ladder-to-lattice culture shift: Look at how the company treats lateral moves (through news announcements and internal communications). Are they celebrated? Do people know what to even say? Scan the career paths on LinkedIn of employees and look at the bios of company leaders. Do you see lateral moves? Or does it look like a lot of parallel ladders?
Womenetics: What role do collaborative teams play in career lattices?
Cleaver:Teams are where you make your first lateral moves. Your teammates can pull you into projects that give you access to responsibilities and people who can expand your experience and abilities. We all know that lateral connections are the new power network; latticing is the engine that makes the network open new opportunities for you.
Womenetics: How does the career lattice democratize economic development?
Cleaver: It seems that the skills gap is never out of the headlines. Right now, training is typically concentrated on technical skills. The Accenture “Skills Gap Study” found that 52 percent of the employees who have recently gotten employee-sponsored training were equipped with new technical skills. Employers say they want managerial and analytical skills, but they aren't actually investing in that kind of training, per the Accenture study. When the skill of latticing is part of job training, people are equipped to see emerging opportunities and make course corrections to have the right skills at the right time. That means that we aren't training people for jobs that don't exist.
Womenetics: You say that successful latticing requires three categories of skills to develop in synch. What are they?
Cleaver: Technical skills are the foundation for job success: You have to be able to do the job. Then, you need to grow your business skills – how your technical skills help your organization achieve its goals – and your creative/problem-solving skills, which include leadership and innovation.
Womenetics: Would you call this a how-to book?
Cleaver: Julie Steinberg of the Wall Street Journal called “The Career Lattice” "Both hopeful and helpful." It blends specific tactics with stories of people and companies that successfully lattice. My intention was for individuals, managers and organization leaders to see new ways to cultivate talent despite a stagnant economy – to catch a vision and to see their first steps toward making that vision a reality. Individuals and managers can use “The Career Lattice” as a guide. Organizations will be equipped for a pilot and can draw in my research partner, The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, as an additional resource to design interlocking lattices for the whole enterprise.
Womenetics: What keeps you awake at night?
Cleaver: Not much. My husband and I are relieved and happy to have gotten three daughters through college and launched into their careers. We love our own careers. He founded iLight Technologies, a high-tech lighting firm, and I have a fast-growing strategic communication consulting firm, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc. We are fortunate to have many lifelong and new friends. We downsized and upgraded, and we now live in a high-rise overlooking Lake Michigan, on the eastern border of Chicago's downtown. We love it!
Womenetics: Who has had the biggest influence on your life?
Cleaver: Both my mom and my mom-in-law found themselves divorced and starting over after 25 years of marriage. Both of them overcame significant obstacles to establish economic self-sufficiency. They have made my firm's work, much of which pivots around fostering workplace cultures where everyone can thrive, meaningful and fulfilling. (That's how I caught on to career lattices.) Our work supports workplaces where women can achieve lifelong economic independence, even if they are re-entering at midlife, as my mom-in-law did.
Womenetics: What are your hobbies?
Cleaver: I single-handedly support the quilting industry! When I was 14, I made my very first quilt, and I have not let up since. I make about a dozen quilts a year. You can see them on my Facebook. People wonder what I do with them all. First, I live in Chicago. It gets cold! And, there are always people who need the comfort or beauty of a quilt in their lives, so I'm glad I always have a new quilt to wrap around a friend who needs one. (My kids say they're all stocked up on quilts, thanks anyway, Mom!)
I am working on a novel, now that I am in a creative writing group that can tell me if it's any good. In the short term, I am growing as a writer by contributing essays regularly to the Chicago Tribune's Opinion pages.
More stories on shifting corporate culture:
With her record-breaking TED talk and bestselling book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking," Susan Cain is making a compelling case for why businesses benefit from embracing introverted employees.
Karen Ho studied Wall Street from the inside out. She investigated the myth of the "money meritocracy," the ideal Wall Street worker and what that means to those who are not upper-middle class, white men.
Dr. Elisabeth Kelan explains how unvoiced gender assumptions are affecting the workplace and what adjustments can be made to organizational sturctures to alleviate the phenomenon of "gender fatigue."
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.