Lattice: death by commuting and job transfers

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

I’M not tooting my own horn, but I think I deserve to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for covering about 2,500 management buzzwords in this space and elsewhere. Since I wrote my first column in 1993 in BusinessWorld and my second column in 2002 for The Manila Times, I’ve received thousands of letters, emails, and texts from loyal readers sending more and more ideas, questions, and accolades as feed to my two newspaper columns.

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The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded every year to an author from any country meeting the criteria as provided for in the will of Alfred Nobel. It is given to those who have “produced the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” I have no doubt you’re asking yourself the question: “What is an ideal direction?” And my answer to that is simply this: your guess is as good as mine.

Like Alfred, I’m also an idealist. I know where I’m going and I’m on my way to it, bent on overcoming the hurdles.

But before we go on, I should warn you that this is a humor column. It’s not a wise idea to believe in everything I say. Don’t take this planet seriously because you’ll never get out of it alive if you do.

I’m telling you this because of an email that I received from a certain Phil Castro (not his real name), who claimed that he became successful in management by religiously following my advice. He gave me an extravagant accolade that I also heard 723,846 times from my mother. He said that he was promoted two times in three years by following my ideas.

If you think that Phil’s story is not true, you are clearly (no offense meant) an idiot. How can you argue with him? No, this is not the time to be jealous of others. Don’t be like Mitch Hedberg who claimed that his artificial plants died because he failed to pretend watering them.

This is not the time to argue with Phil who has no motive to invent a story. Listen. Phil says he got two promotions and is now receiving five times his salary from when he started by continuously asking his boss for lateral job transfers.

He’s lucky, because his boss was magnanimous in assigning him to different jobs across his department. Imagine if you have a boss who thinks and acts like Uncle Scrooge.

Think again. People managers must help their employees redefine their career success in terms of varied work assignments instead of upward movement in the corporate ladder, which is difficult at times because of lack of vacancies. In “Organizational Behavior” (2000), Steven McShane and Mary Ann Von Glinow call this approach as a “lattice” strategy which allows people to shift from job rank to competency-based rewards.

Lattice requires people to move to different projects, work areas, or even geographical work assignments for a short period of time averaging six months.

Promotions through the Jurassic corporate ladder reinforces job status, whereas the often-ignored lateral movement, as seen in the case of Phil, helps employees learn new skills and remain competitive not only within the organization but also in the labor market.

This is no time to argue against “lattice.” This is the time to give it a try. If you’re in people management, you should shuffle your workers to help them understand the difficulties of each and every work assignment. That way, they could become better workers, probably better than their respective bosses who may not have done any lateral movement all their lives.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but reminisce enjoying the opportunity of doing “lattice” work in my past corporate life. It was heavenly being rotated to recruitment, labor relations, training, compensation, organizational development, employee welfare, quality management, benefits administration, security management, building administration, and social work, until I became a specialist in all of them.

Every time I finish a lateral assignment with flying colors, I imagine myself posing for a studio photograph with arms folded, wearing a facial expression that looks happy and dignified while wearing an Armani™ suit like a bank president in a glossy annual report.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful experience for anyone? Now, you’re thinking. What if we do lattice in government service (never mind that the term is an oxymoron)? What if an airport manager, for instance, is assigned in social work even for five months? How about a police commander finishing a seven-month assignment in a human rights commission’s office? How about a prosecutor doing time in jail management?

If six months is too long for you, then let’s simplify it: how about the MRT manager riding the train during rush hours? Certainly, this is a difficult hurdle for bureaucrats in air-conditioned rooms because I’m certain that being a commuter in this part of the world is an extremely dangerous occupation that should be prohibited by law.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant trying his hand in humor writing. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow his random management thoughts on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Yes, lattice movement is good. But it shuold not be used by management to avoid having to pay someone the higher salary he or she should be getting of her or she were promoted upward.