How we build a simple and straightforward organization based on impact and output

Louis Lambert.
Zefir.fr
Published in
6 min readOct 5, 2022

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At Zefir, we believe that performance is measured above all by how a person uses their expertise and works towards growing their level of autonomy and how it impacts their team & the company.

To ensure that our culture fully reflects this philosophy, we have recently rolled out two pillars toward a scalable organizational structure. Namely:

  • A model for job titles inspired by Facebook and Square’s approaches that banishes any notion of “prestige” in titles
  • A compensation system is based on a flexible formula and full internal access to salary information.

This series of articles will explain how and why we designed it this way.

Laying the foundations of a scalable organization

It’s incredible how fast everything goes. We founded Zefir with my partner Rémy in 2020.

Today, the team has over 80 people. Thanks to the Zefir team, we have served about 700 customers across Lille, Nantes, Paris, and Lyon. We have also raised €20 million from Sequoia Capital, a record amount for a French proptech.

Our goal: Help millions of people to change their homes in one simple, certain transaction.

Nevertheless, this phase of hypergrowth has made us aware of organizational weaknesses that could slow down or even hinder our future:

  • The arrival of more and more senior profiles was beginning to raise questions about the scalability and flexibility of our internal organization to accommodate these profiles.
  • Our compensation management lacked transparency, which penalized our recruitment processes and team members weren’t able to project future growth easily.

To solve these strategic challenges, Deborah Rippol joined the team, with her experience at WeWork, Buffer, and Alan.

With Deborah, we designed a custom model at the crossroads of many best practices in the field, based on the multiple elements that will drive a person’s impact at the company level. How much impact can a person have with their scope and the expertise they bring? What is the ripple effect of their work on a day-to-day basis and how much positive output do they bring to their team & the company?

The answer to this question is the basis of our recognition system at Zefir. Here’s why.

Titles that do not rely on the prestige

Our first task was to clarify the titles of each team member.

A decision that may come as a surprise: aren’t there more important things to start with than spending time on this kind of incidental formalism?

No. It is precisely because we consider that titles should be “incidental” that we wanted to settle this issue from the beginning of the structuring of Zefir. Once and for all. To spend less time on it afterward.

Titles are useful

Warning: we say titles are incidental. Not useless. We don’t see ourselves building a scalable organization without titles. There are two reasons for this, as discussed in Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

1) It is a social marker

Most of us need titles to position ourselves in different external contexts, both professional (meeting with partners, job interviews…) and personal.

2) It is an efficient way to know who does what

Titles are shortcuts to quickly navigate the company to collaborate with the right people.

But titles can be poison

That being said, titles can unnecessarily pollute a company’s life — which is why some companies are trying to get rid of them.

1) They can be a source of motivation

When a person is more interested in climbing the hierarchy ladder to “become a VP” or “become a C-Level” rather than expanding their reach or impact, there’s a problem. The “Me-first” and politics can sabotage a corporate culture.

2) They can be used as a means to gain special privileges

Consciously or unconsciously, high-profile titles can be a way of asserting power and skewing a company’s decision-making processes. To be influential, you need to have a big title. This undermines the idea of meritocracy and internal equity and only reinforces the first factor mentioned.

3) They can only go up

Say we have a VP of Growth at Zefir and imagine that we are looking for someone to lead the next stage of the company, on a slightly larger scope (ex: Marketing). Two options present themselves: going into an endless bidding process for titles or adding layers that might not be aligned with the rest of the organization and could create role hierarchies.

This is why, at Zefir, we chose to build a taxonomy that would recognize and emphasize the person’s impact over a scope. It is driven by how they apply their level of mastery to increase & improve output in their field, rather than the glory and prestige of their title.

Our vision

1) Create a scalable way of quickly giving titles to people during the recruitment process and during their life cycle at Zefir.

2) Build a structure that attracts people who want to grow & develop mastery through meaningful achievements.

3) Build a simple system that accurately reflects the scope of everyone’s role at Zefir.

4) Establish a classification that allows team members to find the right person for a task.

Our titles model

To achieve our goal, we were inspired by the examples of Facebook and Square, and believe titles should have real meaning and reflect the scope within the organization, even if they will be less sexy than in the rest of the market.

Principle 1: Descriptive titles

A title should express precisely what the person does. Examples: software engineering, people operations, product design, sales, pricing… No subjective and foggy notions of “junior”, “senior”, “associate”, “specialist”, “expert”…

The advantage? It forces us, as an organization, to state each person’s job description precisely and concisely.

Principle 2: One title for managers

At Zefir, there is no “Head of”, no “Director”, no “VP”. We have “Lead”. That is all. No notion of “power”. Just a distinctive attribute indicates that this person is responsible for a team with a defined scope. This, by the way, allows us to stop in the hiring process people for whom these names would be significant and perhaps reflect a lack of adaptability to the company’s evolutions.

“Lead” is sufficient when coupled with a precise scope. Product Management Lead, <ProductName> Engineering Lead, <ProductName> Product Lead, <Geography> Sales Lead, <Business Unit> Sales Lead, etc.

Managers of managers are also Leads. For example, we have a People & Talent Lead, but within this team, we’re likely to one day have a People Lead, and also a Talent Lead. The connection is obvious, but as the organization grows, the People Lead can become the People & Workplace Lead without stepping on anyone’s toes, changing level or adding a Head of in front to “show” their growth.

The model is simple thanks to its radicality. But when linked to a great discipline during recruitment and organizational changes, it will prevent us from wasting time on this topic in the future.

At the same time, it sends a clear symbolic signal: at Zefir, it is not the title that counts, but the output you bring.

Outcomes

We rolled out this vision in May, and as we did that, we took time to discuss it with the team. The result? To our greatest delight, everyone was highly aligned! Even former “Head of’” or “Directors” were on board. It was reassuring and exciting to see that the company’s leaders were showing the way.

It has allowed us to make a few changes to our structure without anyone feeling like they were losing “power” or “status”.

It reinforced our conviction that investing in building a scalable organization based on scope and impact was definitely a worthwhile decision.

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