5 Ways to Know Your Best ‘Career Lattice’

These days, a promotion alone may not be the best way to find a high-paying and rewarding job. How a career lattice works.

As workers prepare for their annual performance reviews, they may be dismayed to learn that US employers anticipate handing out smaller pay raises and fewer promotions in 2024 than they did this year, according to a recent study.

The obvious response for many is to look for ways to move up the career ladder. But experts say that’s actually an outdated approach: smart workers, they say, develop a “career lattice” in which they can take roles at the same level—or even lower—while learning skills that will pay career dividends later. “The old way of thinking about getting a promotion every year or two is antiquated,” says Dan Kaplan, senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s CHRO practice.

According to Mark Royal, senior client partner for Korn Ferry Advisory, it’s all about positioning. Lateral career moves—or moving along the career lattice—can help you gain additional skills and experience, he says, as well as help establish new relationships and connections that will benefit your career in the long term and make you a more valuable contributor at your firm. So how do you figure out your best career-lattice moves?

Don’t be limited by a career ladder.

“Very few roles these days offer pure next-step progression,” says Korn Ferry Advance coach Frances Weir. Instead of limiting your growth progression, a career lattice allows you to continue learning and growing by providing opportunities that broaden your skill set, perspective, and the value you bring to the organization. Don’t limit yourself only to a new responsibility that includes a promotion or a raise, Royal says.

Try on a new role.

Find opportunities for stretch or shadow assignments on adjacent teams, or in an area that interests you, Weir says. This will allow you to establish credibility and get comfortable with your new role before you fully commit to it. Taking advantage of a career lattice allows you to reinvent yourself, or even start a career transition, while remaining at your current firm, she says.

Focus on work you love.

If you’re interested in tapping into the career lattice, Royal recommends reflecting on what you enjoy most about your role and then talking with your manager to determine if you can use those skills somewhere else at the firm. “Think about what energizes you and where you can apply that skill in the organization,” he says. For instance, tell your manager you enjoy distilling information into key, easy-to-understand messages, and ask how you can apply that skill to another job at your organization.

Consider the advantages.

Early- and late-career employees may find a career lattice especially helpful, says Korn Ferry Advance coach Valerie Olson. For instance, moving laterally to gain new skills and make new connections can be very beneficial for someone new at their career who’s eager to experience different roles, functions, companies and industries, she says.

Tapping into a career lattice may be appealing to someone later in their career, particularly if they are starting to think about retirement but are interested in finding a new challenge before they leave the workforce, Olson says.

Don’t rule out a promotion.

A lateral move to a new role could ultimately lead to a promotion, Olson says. For example, if you feel ready to take on a new challenge at work but there is no clear path to promotion, consider an adjacent role that could put you in a better position for advancement and offer you new opportunities for learning, skill-building, and relationship building, Olson says. Employers are eager to retain employees who have demonstrated they are adaptable and want to update their skills.

Career lattices are especially useful during downturns, because employees who are multi-skilled and open to opportunities are much more likely to be reassigned and retained, Weir says.


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.