Remixing Titles

culture Oct 06, 2021

As has become clear in recent years, we need to progress from the “factory model” of education to something more personalized to individual needs and fitting with the future. The same is true in the workplace. Most business practices are relics of the antiquated, industrialized economy so we should be careful about taking them too seriously.

At Outschool, we seek to have a large positive impact and drive change towards the education system of the future. We take an unconventional approach to education that makes love of learning a higher priority than grades and seeks to give kids power and autonomy. To achieve unconventional ends and outsized impact, we are creating an unconventional company. That means questioning many traditional work practices.

We are excited to share more publicly about how we operate internally and our distinctive philosophy. We hope that other companies can build on our approach, as we have built on those that have come before, to create more modern and improved practices. By sharing more we also hope that people who are considering joining our team and community have a strong sense of who we are and how we work so they can make good decisions about how our approach aligns with their personal goals.

Titling is an area where we take a different approach. Titles in companies are typically meant to convey both role and seniority. As companies grow, seniority in titles can become fine grain and symbolize a focus on hierarchy and status rather than collaboration and creativity. It can also create assumptions that someone with a more senior-level title has better or more valuable ideas, which is an idea that we reject. Great ideas come from every area of our company, and we want to create an environment where we bring each other in and focus on the work, not status symbols.

We decided to take a different approach to titles and designed our system to be:

  1. Mission-aligned. We stand for learners by focusing on the learning itself rather than the external trappings of education such as grades or certification. We seek to mirror this approach to our work culture.
  2. Values-aligned. We seek to bring others in and encourage collaboration from all levels. Too many layers of titles can discourage people from speaking up. We reduce this by eliminating the use of titles as status symbols.
  3. Scalable. We want to grow as a company while not creating overly bureaucratic practices that change the great aspects of our culture. We won’t need to continually change or add new titles as we grow.
  4. Simple. We created an approach that has fewer types of management titles and so is easy to remember.  

This all points us towards a system of relying less on titles to clarify someone’s seniority and more on creating other culture aligned approaches to recognizing, rewarding and growing our people. We announced this change internally in the Spring of 2021, since then have hired many exceptionally talented people who value this philosophy.

We’ve built out a leveling framework for employees to better understand their growth paths at Outschool, and how that relates to compensation growth as well. We’ve placed an emphasis on learning and development in our company to support employees on their journey as lifelong learners. We have rejected using typical titles such as Director, VP, or CxO to denote seniority. We also don’t use modifiers such as “Senior” to denote grades of seniority within these titles. Instead we have two types of titles for management:

  • Head (e.g., Head of Operations)
  • Lead [or Manager] (e.g., Support Lead or Engineering Manager)

Having fewer types of titles is simpler and more aligned with our mission and values. Heads can report to Heads and Leads can report to Leads, so we will not have to add new types of titles as we grow.

This approach builds upon the practices of other startups such as Stripe, Faire, Gusto who have taken a similar approach to titling, for similar reasons, and have seen great success. However we are taking their approach a step further. While they take a similar approach to titling, they still reserve C-level titles for the highest rung of leadership in the company.

We do not accept that C-level titles are necessary and believe it is important for the most senior leaders in the company to personally model our culture & values, and be consistent with what they ask of others: in this case to put aside typical corporate status symbols in favor of creating a collaborative, creative and equitable environment. This applies to me too. My role at other companies would be described as CEO. Here, I am Head of Outschool.

We’ve just launched a search for a Head of Finance to join our growing team. An executive level role like this would typically be called a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in another company, but we’re looking for a Head of Finance who is inspired by the opportunity we have in front of us to shape the future of education and sees the value in our unique approach. More details on that role can be found here.

What matters most to me is the positive impact we have on learners and how we can increase that in the future. There’s an idea in business that you end up “shipping your org chart”. That is, your product will end up reflecting how you organize and communicate internally. I’d take that idea a step further and assert that the impact we have on the world reflects who we are and our culture.

That’s why I’m so passionate about cultivating personal development, diversity, equity and inclusion in our company as we work to improve our understanding of who “we” are. And why I’m excited to share more about our culture and remix it as we grow our company to add more unique, exciting perspectives.

Amir Nathoo

Amir is co-founder and Head of Outschool.

Outschool