Designing and Building a Stackable Organization

Affordable Content Means and Affordable Organization

Having a mission focused on delivering learning solutions at the most affordable prices possible has also required rethinking our organizational design.

From an operations perspective, creating affordable learning content means reengineering learning design, authoring and production processes, and technology. Our solution for this part of the affordable learning equations has been our Stackable LessonsTM model. This allows us to use a single learning design and content template for all TEL Library content and to build all operational processes and technology around that single model.

But operations represents only part of the problem related to scaling affordability. There is also the issue of the organizational model and staffing. At scale, people represent our biggest investment and ongoing cost.

We are committed to an organizational and staffing model that will result in an excellent and passionate staff, as well as high-quality products and services. We want to cultivate a positive organizational culture in which employees feel valued and remain motivated by our vision.

Scaling and Affordable Content Organization

So how do we address that part of the “scaling affordability” problem?

Our solution, which may be somewhat unique due to our products/services and markets, is to implement a Stackable Organization model.

Traditional organizations place a high value on specialized knowledge and skills, both in an employee’s area of work and with regards to general business acumen. In this traditional model, organizations generally hire new employees into career tracks or specific organization divisions. As employees move through this traditional organizational model they are rewarded through subject-specific knowledge, experience, and longevity. Organizational growth necessitates the continued hiring of specialists in different divisions.

There are multiple challenges to this traditional model for smaller organizations or for companies focused on keeping costs low to facilitate product affordability. First, hiring for specialization often entails higher salary ranges and greater competition for qualified candidates, which increases staffing costs considerably. Second, this traditional model champions employee promotion based on continued knowledge specialization and experience within a specific division. This results in even higher salaries and an ever narrowing specialization of skills. Finally, because different divisions require unique skill specialization, each with its own salary demands, salary inequalities across divisions develop naturally. These inequalities can contribute both to higher turnover in low-paying divisions, as well as to occupational hierarchies that affect staff morale.

The Advantages of a Stackable Organization

By contrast, a Stackable Organization emphasizes specialization primarily in terms of a company’s own processes and products. As a result, a Stackable Organization seeks to hire non-specialist staff based on a broad set of traits, including communication skills, general aptitude, eagerness to learn new things, and adaptability. Post-hire, the organization focuses on cross training and mobility of staff across roles and divisions as necessitated by organizational growth and need.

There are a number of organizational and operational consequences related to implementing a Stackable Organization model.

  • The requirement of a specialized talent pool for hiring is greatly reduced.
  • The size of the available talent pool is greatly increased.
  • All employees enter at the same level and develop competency in all non-specialist areas of the company (more than 85%-90% of tasks and processes).
  • Employees are allowed to develop and demonstrate higher aptitudes and interests in specific areas of the organization and gravitate toward teams based on those abilities and interests.
  • The organizational hierarchy is flattened significantly, generally to a maximum of 3 levels — Specialists (meaning they are specialists in company processes and products), Managers (meaning they are Specialists who have demonstrated the ability to manage company processes, projects, and/or people), and Executives (high-level strategists, founders).
  • Organizational pay is equitable across all roles and employment levels. Salaries are standardized for all Specialists and Managers, with base salaries adjusted to market value on a regular basis.
  • Employee advancement is based entirely on attitude, effort, and productivity over time. There is no defined tenure requirement for promotion from Specialist to Manager.

For organizations with products and services that can support a Stackable Organization model, there are also significant benefits with regards to lowering operational costs while increasing organizational productivity and scale.

  • A stackable, non-specialist organization has access to a much larger talent pool, which means less competition for qualified employees. This allows the organization to pay fair and meaningful salaries that have a lower base value than those paid by organizations that hire specialized talent.
  • A stackable organization works to redesign complicated and traditionally specialized tasks so that they can be completed successfully by the lowest level employee. This results in improved processes and greater continuity, and also facilitates organizational scalability.
  • Employees, including Managers and most Executives, can be redeployed easily without significant disruption.
  • Every employee in the Stackable Organization model becomes a contributor from Day 1 of employment. This reinforces the value of each individual employee.
  • Hiring non-specialists into a common position with a common base pay, as well as creating manager roles with a common base pay and only through internal promotion creates an equitable pay structure without promoting salary escalation.

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