Today, I spoke to Cathy Benko, who is the Vice Chairman and Chief Talent Officer at Deloitte LLP, and the co-author of The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work. In this interview, Cathy talks about the changing workforce, what the corporate lattice is, how to establish your personal brand when you enter the workforce, and more.

How has the workplace/workforce changed since you took you first job at Deloitte?

Where do I start (without completely dating myself). Organizational structures are flatter. Employees are less tethered to traditional offices and set hours. Non-routine and project-based work is far more prevalent. Family structures have changed markedly with traditional dad-goes-off-to-work-and-mom-stays-home households dropping like a stone. Women now constitute half of the U.S. workforce and are the primary breadwinners 40 percent of the time. Men cite career-life conflict increasingly more often than women, and younger generations are bringing different attitudes to work at the same time that older workers are looking for options to stay in the labor market. Careers zig and zag. Work is done whenever and wherever. And information flows in every which way. This pretty much sums it up. Yep, work is radically different than it was when I started at Deloitte not that long ago.

What is “The Corporate Lattice” and how did you come up with the name for the book?

The Corporate Lattice metaphor was first coined in an earlier book, Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace with Today’s Nontraditional Workforce, (with Anne Weisberg, Harvard Press 2007). The term contrasts with the corporate ladder–the prevailing model for how companies manage their work and their people since the beginning of the industrial revolution a century ago. The ladder depends on an inflexible view in which prestige, rewards, access to information, influence, power, etc. are all tied to the rung occupied. The problem is that we no longer live in an industrial age. Globalization and technology, as examples, open up new possibilities. A corporate lattice model (for right brainers, think ivy growing on a garden trellis) provides a more adaptive, flexible view. In math (for the left brainers), a lattice is a 3D structure that extends in multiple directions. In short, lattice seems a fitting visual for how work gets done, how careers are built, and how participation is fostered today.

What advice would you give to a new hire whose looking to establish their career at Deloitte or any other company? How do they go about managing their career?

It’s a good question which we devote a full chapter to in the Lattice book. Each of us needs to play an active role in directing our own lattice journey, treating skills, experiences and capabilities as brand-building assets. Continually mark-to-market yourself by taking inventory of your skills, assessing their market relevance and positioning them as a portfolio to create a consistent and compelling impression. The world of work is an ever-changing calculus so think option value by actively seeking out opportunities—lateral and diagonal moves along with upward movement—that open up multiple future career paths. And ask yourself: “How well do I stay on top of my personal brand and what it says and means to others?”

Is there one direct way up the corporate ladder anymore? Why is the path more complicated now?

I’m not sure I would describe things as more complicated per se. There are just more choices, a multiplicity of ways to get ahead, and even more ways to define what get ahead means. The changing world of work provides more options— growth and development opportunities become tailored; the when, where, and how work gets done grow more flexible; broader levels and methods of collaboration enable more ways for people to interact, share ideas, more ways to get involved—or not. In the lattice world, there is no longer a single model of engagement. What
motivates individuals is as varied as the diverse backgrounds, cultures, family structures, and experiences that come together at work. And what success means to each individual changes at various stages over the course of his or her lifetime. Given all these customized inputs, continuing with a hard-coded corporate ladder blueprint is futile.

What does it mean to be a “Chief Talent Officer”?

When you break it all down, Deloitte competes in two markets: the market for clients and the market for talent. As Chief Talent Officer, I drive our strategy to attract, develop and advance a highly skilled and diverse workforce along with our signature Deloitte Talent Experience. I’ve got a dream job with looking out for the best of the best talent the market has to offer for the largest professional services firm in the country. Not too shabby for a Jersey girl.

Cathy Benko
is Vice Chairman and Chief Talent Officer at Deloitte LLP, the largest professional services firm in the United States. In this role, Cathy sets the strategy and leads the delivery of Deloitte’s signature talent experience to a highly skilled and diverse workforce. Cathy has been named a “Frontline Leader” by Consulting magazine and is the recipient of its inaugural Leadership Achievement Award for Women Leaders. The San Francisco Business Times named her as one of the “Most Influential Women in the Bay Area” for eight consecutive years. Cathy is coauthor of the bestseller Mass Career Customization, Connecting the Dots, and her latest book called The Corporate Lattice. She has contributed to The New York Times, Ivey Business Journal, Strategy + Leadership, BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal, Time, and Workforce Management.