The workplace is changing.

Competitive firms and companies know that in order to keep their best people happy and in their seats once the economy improves, flexibility and providing a process to customize career paths are among the keys to success. In return, they enjoy a more adaptable workforce and are able to better respond to the ebbs and flow of economic cycles.

Big Four firm Deloitte has been watching this cultural movement closely, having introduced the concept of Mass Career Customization - which is the shift from the corporate ladder to what they call the "corporate lattice."

This resulted in the 2007 book, Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace with Today's Nontraditional Workforce (Harvard Business School Press),in an attempt to organize a growing trend among workplace environments.

Mass Career Customization or "MCC" was incubated in the Deloitte's Women's Initiative because, though the firm had introduced 69 different flexibility programs, work-life issues were still the No. 1 reason women were leaving, and the No. 3 reason their male counterparts were leaving as well.

Accounting Today spoke with authors Cathy Benko, Deloitte's chief talent officer, and Anne Weisberg, a director in the U.S. firm's talent organization specializing in the field of diversity, gender and work-life integration, about MCC and the new follow-up book coming out this summer - The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work.

What is MCC, and how has it changed since your book waspublished three years ago?

Weisberg: We first set out to really identify a paradigmshift that we saw happening in the workplace as the result of the convergenceof many changes in the workforce. Mass career customization is a framework formanaging that paradigm shift. The lattice organization is one that is much morefluid and adaptive; where there are multiple paths through the organization andflexibility is the way work gets done.

Basically the MCC framework says that any career can bedeconstructed to four core dimensions: pace, which is the rate of careerprogression; workload, which is the amount of work you do; location/schedule,which is where and when you work; and role, which is the set ofresponsibilities you have. Any organization should be able to articulateoptions for its people along each of those dimensions and the trade-off forchoices made across dimensions because they are very interrelated.

That's what we've been working towards for the last threeyears at Deloitte. We have taken that strategic decision to intentionallybecome a lattice organization and everyone at Deloitte, and I mean everyone,has a mass customization conversation with their counselor or manager, and thatconversation gets folded into all the other talent management and performancemanagement processes. It's part of goal-setting, it's part of how you getassigned work, it's part of performance reviews, it's part of everything. It'sa way of instantly scaling flexibility and career-life fit.


What have been some of your greatest lessons since youstarted investigating MCC?

Benko: We learned that what people really are looking foris the option value. There is a comfort - a psychic comfort - of just knowingthat if and when you wanted to do something different, that there was a cultureand there was a process, a scalable way to do that. We also learned that wewere worried about dial-down, but what actually happened, more people raisedtheir hand to dial up - meaning people who wanted to accelerate their growthand their learning and their development and networks. That was like,"Wow. I would not have predicted that."

Weisberg: We were totally unprepared, actually, for theflood of dial-up requests. Looking back on that, dial-up requests havecontinued to outnumber dial-down [easing workloads] requests by two-to-onesince we've rolled it out across the firm. That, and the more I learn about thegenerations, the more I understand that we are a very young work force atDeloitte. And as with accounting firms, we bring in a lot of people right outof college - the Gen Y and Millennials of the world. And they are veryimpatient. They don't want to be, as they perceive it, stuck in a position fortwo or three years just because that's how long it is supposed to take to getto the next level. They want to accumulate experience and opportunities andrelationships faster, so that's where that's coming from to a significantdegree. That has been a real challenge for us, and a very healthy one for us tounderstand.


What was the outcome?

Weisberg: Even though dial-up requests have outnumbereddial-down requests, 90 percent of our people have made no change to their setof choices that they made going into MCC. We have what we call the "CommonProfile" and 90 percent of our people are on the Common Profile. What'svery interesting is that even though that is true, satisfaction with currentcareer-life fit has gone up over 20 percent. We've seen big increases insatisfaction just because people have more of a say. We've seen tremendousimprovement in the quality of these conversations, which are basically careerconversations that include a career-life fit component. We've seen a 35 percentincrease in satisfaction.


Is the average midsized accounting firm taking thisseriously?

Benko: I think if you take a look at average midsizedfirms and you take a look at how they are organized, are they being organizedvery hierarchically or are they more matrix-organized? I think that's a signalright there. If you look around at what you are already doing, you already haveflexible work arrangements, you already have lots of project-based work goingon, you have people coming into the office who are telecommuting here or there,you already have global teams, so therefore the notion of work being a physicallocation every day from 9 to 5 or 8 to 6, that's already being chipped away.


What would you say to the firms that aren't doing thatand are resistant to change?

Benko: At the end of the day,"one-size-fits-all" is fitting fewer and fewer. So they are going tofind they are not competitive and I am not just talking about not beingcompetitive in the talent market, you can't be competitive in the clientmarket.


You address flexible work arrangements in the MCC book,saying they're not the answer. Are they still not the answer?

Weisberg: They are not the whole answer and I think thatwas the problem. Most organizations, including Deloitte, thought they were thewhole answer but they're not. Traditionally, most FWAs have really onlyaddressed one of those dimensions or maybe two of those dimensions we spoke ofearlier in the MCC framework - workload and location/schedule. They were neverfully integrated into the way business gets done. The way to tell whether yourFWA program is integrated is to ask your leaders or your partners what theirFWA policy is. If they can't answer, that means it's not integrated into howyou operate things. That was the problem. The problem was that they are not astructural solution to what really is a structural problem. FWAs are clearlypart of the solution.


What is the new book about?

Benko: We introduced the term corporate lattice in"Mass Career Customization." It's the observation that somewherealong the way, the basic kind of unwritten principles behind the corporateladder model that has emerged since we started the Industrial Revolution wasreally splintering away. What is taking its place was a more nimble, fluid andadaptive model which we dubbed "lattice."

This book explores the three ways that the lattice way isdifferent than the predecessor ladder world. One, how careers are built - MCCis essentially a tool that helps companies and individuals organize the newcareer landscape. Second, how careers get built, how work gets done, where itgets done, when it gets done, the type of work that gets done, how units ofwork are organized is different - much more project-based work in much morematrix-oriented organizations. The third way is how you participate in theorganization - very different today. In a ladder world, it's top-downcommunications and the flow of information is very much tied to the role youplay or the level you're at. Today it's just information and the flow ismultidirectional, it's not bidirectional.


How has the economy influenced MCC?

Benko: Very little, if at all. I know that is kind ofcounterintuitive thinking. But we're talking about long-term changes -fundamental shifts. Is there high unemployment? Yes. But is there also ashortage of critical skills? Yes. An estimated 20 percent of the workerspossess the critical skills needed for 60 percent of the jobs in this decade.


What will the workplace of the future look like?

Benko: The emphasis is on growth and development versusjust linear-vertical promotion. It is more tailored and customized to theindividual and not just about how people's careers are built. Collaborationwill continue. Today there are 40 times more projects going on in anorganization on average than 25 years ago. That's a big number. Itfundamentally changes how things are done. There are much flatterorganizations. On average organizations have fewer organizational layers than20 years ago, which means fewer managers. The span of management growsmaterially because you have fewer rungs on the ladder. That's why the emphasisshifts from the organizational view.




Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access