Matrix, lattice, web, network, level playing field – these are all terms I’ve heard used recently to describe an organization’s talent development path. The long-storied “career ladder” is disappearing in favour of lateral moves intended to broaden functional experience and deepen managerial expertise before the scope of responsibility escalates. Organizations are flattening, creating broader spans of control at the managerial and executive levels which require stronger leadership skills – skills that can only get sharper with time and experience.
The problem is that “sideways” doesn’t feel like “progress” to many people in the matrix.
Along with faster-paced communication and increased pressure on results has come an expectation in the minds of employees that the pace of career growth should match or resemble the pace of business. And that “growth” means “upward” and that it comes with a title and salary bump. There is very little understanding of let alone patience for the value of spending time to get good at something.
Organizations aren’t helping themselves here. “New” used to apply to the first year in a role. Now the expectations are high just a few months in, and there is little organizational tolerance for not knowing even in the very early days with new responsibilities. So the high potentials and top talent are grinding hard to deliver, and expecting rewards fast.
On top of the pace and expectations and pressure on performance is the feedback gap present in almost every organization I’ve seen. Smart, talented but inexperienced individuals might get the “what” of results done, but the “how” – the EQ and culture-driving behaviours – is almost always missing.
So we have top talent believing they are deserving, and organizations trying to pacify them with “meaty cross-functional roles.”
Remember, there are the people who all got a ribbon just for showing up in their childhood sports activities. Without clear feedback and active support for development they’re going to jump to another team if the trophies look shiner.