Has the corporate ladder run its course?

Written by
Changeboard Team

08 Jul 2015

08 Jul 2015 • by Changeboard Team

Reaching the top of the career ladder

It was in fact the pinnacle of a working career – the climb to the top was the path to unlocking the most abundant reward. Of course not everyone could sit upon the small perch of leadership and management, there’s limited space at the top, but as long as you were climbing, that was a sign of success.
While many books, papers and articles have been written challenging the traditional career path the reality is that this approach to climbing up the corporate ladder is still the norm within many organisations. If you tick the right boxes and are not seen to make any mistakes you will be promoted higher up the ladder. If you fail to tick the boxes and do make a mistake you will either get stuck on a rung, slide down the snake or be thrown off the ladder completely.
This approach is fundamentally preventing organisations to achieve those things they say they want to, such as having a more diverse workforce and being more innovative, competitive or global.

Shift the focus: become a game changer

The corporate career ladder does not give businesses what they need.
If we look at the models we need to thrive in the future, they are less linear so much as emergent and branched, more exploratory than controlled. Leaders are crying out for special individuals who shine amidst uncertainty and have the focus to turn ideas into business successes – they are crying out for game changers. But our research shows game changers can feel actively restricted by more traditional, hierarchical organisational cultures.
Game changers don’t always conform to typical reward structures within organisations. They can be seen as disruptive because they challenge accepted thinking and norms, whilst they can bring vital and sought after results they can be more difficult to manage. They may not value a place at the top, its spans of control and its focus on people management. Not everyone wants to be a people manager and not everyone has the skills to be good at it. Should we be penalising our best people because they don’t want to manage others?

Recognise people that aren't climbing the ladder

In corporate ladder thinking, the end result of stellar achievements and hard work (often within a functional area) brings a coveted place at the top with a healthy salary and reward package. But quite often these employees will end up doing relatively little of what got them there and perhaps little of what they are passionate about. This can create huge problems – not only could it leave people lacking passion but the people these employees lead may feel that lack of passion and high level of risk aversion too.
We have to nuance the way we view, incentivise and reward progression, so that people are enabled at all levels of the organisation. The world of work today and tomorrow is looking different to what it looked like in the past, and if we don’t keep apace and move ahead, we wont just be left behind, we’ll be dead.
Not all game changers are changing the game from the top, nor should they have to. They can be anywhere in the organisation, leading us into futures that didn’t seem possible or likely, let alone brilliantly successful.
Managers do things right, leaders do the right things, game changers rewrite the things we do.