businesswoman with hammer in handsThe talent war has been raging for some time now as employers have been struggling to find talent to fill critical posts. Manpower reports that, globally, 35 percent of employers are struggling to hire for key roles and in the U.S. this figure sits at 39 percent. But with the news from Hay Group that staff turnover levels are set to surge over the next four years, talent management teams face a battle on all fronts and are at HR’s DefCon1.

But, with most employers already fully geared up in the talent attraction arena, the emphasis is shifting towards staff retention, which has probably only needed to be in second or third gear until now. Retention processes have lagged behind the early adopting, innovating talent attraction process. But, it is time for employee retention to catch up and start becoming a dynamic and innovative partner in the human capital management process.

And one area of talent retention that needs some fresh and innovating thinking is career development, because a lack of career development opportunities are widely considered to be the main reason that employee’s quit companies.

The problem is that the traditional ‘climbing the career ladder‘ view of career development is incredibly one dimensional and falls woefully short of what is required in the modern work-life balance conscious workplace – and this in itself contributes to unwanted staff turnover.


Well, a career ladder model of career development implies strongly that the only way is up, and if you go sideways you fail and if you go down you fail. The issue here is that not everyone can go up or even wants to go up or remain up for ever – and the many people who fall under this category are annihilated by a career ladder. Basically, if you can’t go up or stay up you are devalued and you crash out of the organization, becoming another retention statistic.

This is wrong and is an extremely wasteful approach to career management, which produces a lot of collateral damage, fallout and unnecessary staff turnover. This is why post-modern HR thinking is favoring the career lattice over the career ladder, which was put forward by Joanne Cleaver on her book The Career Lattice. A career lattice is characterized by multiple pathways where you can move sideways into different roles or skills areas and move backwards and where it is considered developmental and not viewed negatively as in a career ladder.

You can move fast or slow to new opportunities. Deloitte is one of the most well-known companies to have adopted a career lattice, which it calls Mass Career Customization (MCC). With this model, you can customize your career according to pace of progression, workload, location/schedule and role (leader/individual contributor) to suit the phase of life you are in and your own personal desires. These lattice career paths adjust as the needs of employees change over time.

The question is, “Did it work?” Well, it did for Deloitte and the company experienced increases in retention and engagement in areas involved in the MCC program.

So, I believe that one of the most positive influences you can have on retention in your organization is to move away from one-dimensional career ladders that force good employees out of the business and adopt a more flexible multi-dimensional career lattice that allows employees to move left and right or up and down to suit their needs as they change over time.

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