Human-Centered Organizational Resilience

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My Covid-19 bunker, replete with infinite Zoom backgrounds and a Stratocaster at arms length.

Zoom. Overnight my job, my social life, my ongoing personal and professional development have been transformed to Brady-Bunch-esque, cleverly back-dropped virtual collaborations paired with a variety of beverages.

Literally. Overnight.

COVID-19 has revealed many things about my life, my family, my personal and professional relationships. My sleeping and exercise habits. My son’s ability to distill an 8 hour school day into 45 minutes of daily school work (probably not really). My wife’s impressive yet until now untapped skill at scratch baking. One thing that has given me long pause is the organizational resilience of Intuit in the face of an event that has impacted our operations at every level: place, culture, tools, productivity, operations, engagement metrics, business forecasts. COVID-19 is, to properly use a mostly over-used term, a game changer. It’s incredible to me how quickly Intuit suited up for that game.

Intuit has 9,000 employees. Until recently most were badging into our offices in Mountain View and San Diego. And here in Plano. And in Boise, Reno, Tucson, Fredericksburg, VA, Washington D.C. And London, Paris, Bangalore, Sydney, Petach Tikva, Mississauga, Edmonton, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City.

This is certainly the first time in my 6 years here that Intuit has had to respond to the safety and well-being of every single employee, concurrently. Essentially 72 hours after an announcement was issued, we were 99% remote (with the exception of a very small cohort of on-property essential staff) — in the midst of tax season, the most critical window of time for our business. The operations and communications were, from my chair, flawless. Logistically, we moved decisively with speed to empower employees to make the call on whatever equipment they needed to be successful: desks, monitors, earphones and headsets. AND we did it apparently without dropping a deadline or a major milestone. AND we added work to assist consumers and small businesses so they might access and navigate the U.S. Government Aid and Relief Programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program and financial aid for consumers through our Turbo Tax infrastructure. Again — during tax season — a tax season which has been anything but typical. AND we were inspired to spin up additional efforts to support small businesses in nearly every geography we operate in.

Our operating principles are human centered: employees first, customers second, stockholders third. Of course, as a business, we care about all of them. But in moments where speed of decision matters, these principles enable incredible decision-making clarity and speed.

There is no Intuit without our employees. Their wellness is essential for us to deliver outcomes for our customers and ultimately for our business. This is common sense, of course. But common sense alone is not a reliable lens for data-driven decision making.

Perhaps more impressively, leaders from the CEO down immediately began role-modeling question number one: “First, how are you doing? Do you have what you need? Are you safe? Is your family safe? Is there anything we can do?” This may seem trivial — but it’s Intuit’s learning mindset on full display. Intuit used these questions early and often, asking them with true curiosity, to help us find our new vector in the first few weeks. Yes we have screaming kids and disruptive pets and awkward bedroom furniture in our Zoom meetings. When the our CEO, Sasan Goodarzi, drags his large dog into his lap during his address of 400 company executives, you know we’ve turned a very human corner. But we were able to quickly assess where our employees were, qualitatively (if anecdotally) and then determine where we needed to flex more, what tools were working, and started formulating employee engagement 2.0.

Our business strategy is human-centered: we frame our business through the lenses of big unsolved customers problems. Problems that we and our partners are equipped to solve well. And we can do so in a way that’s durably advantaged (hard to copy). Most businesses will agree there is no business without customers. However, framing your business strategy through the needs of your customers means you are keenly aware of, and can quickly refocus resources toward, the greatest pain for your customer. It’s not just about delivering a great customer experience (ease of use, reliable delivery of the customer benefit), it’s about having the organizational agility — to be both ready and able — to reprioritize if and when your customers’ needs suddenly change.

Intuit’s boldest ambitions are grounded in the success of our customers, not our company. We exist to put money back in the pocket of individuals filing their taxes. We exist to back small businesses who boldly go out on their own to follow a dream, be their own boss and power our economy. Their success is our success. When they struggle, we do everything we can to help.

We are in a position — thanks to our infrastructure, assets, partnerships with accounting professionals, financial institutions — to make bold moves on behalf of our customers. Because it’s already our mission.

When times are good, Intuit’s stockholders are paid well for the fact that we deliver the benefits critical to consumers: less work, more money in their pocket, and complete confidence they are on track and doing it right. When times aren’t so good, our stockholders should rest assured we are still focused on that mission. That mission is durable. Help, money and peace of mind don’t go out of style. And while HOW we do that may change over time, why we do it remains true.

I honed in on 4 attributes or organizational resilience that I believe Intuit has both organized around, and demonstrated with great effect: Autonomy, Flexibility, Reliability, and Observability.

Autonomy to make human-centered decisions with speed.

Flexibility to repoint our resources toward the most important customer needs, as those needs evolve.

Reliability to continuously deliver for customers with minimal interruption through processes and resilient organizational architecture (our values, our strategy, communications, tools, and processes)

Observability with declared and instrumented metrics across every stakeholder: employees, customers, partners and stockholders. We have the data we need to assess our delivery and adjust in real time as needed.

I believe our human-centered mindset drives each of the these aspects of our business. And while I cannot predict how Intuit will weather the COVID-19 crisis, an unprecedented event in terms of its systemic scope across many dimensions for healthcare to education to economics to climate to politics. I can tell you we’re about as well organized for it as we could possibly be. I’m betting on us.

Design Leader, Advisor, Speaker, Student, Advocate, Enabler.

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