How Intuit Drives Innovation Through All Aspects of the Organization
Bennett Blank, Innovation Leader at Intuit, Shares Innovation Best Practices
1. How does Intuit think about innovation—How much of it is about people & culture, how much of it is process, and how much of it is systems and technology?
In my experience, a truly sustainable innovation program requires all three. To operationalize innovation, your organization must possess the capabilities, systems and culture in which innovation can thrive. We try to create an environment in which people can do their most innovative work.
Start with capabilities. Your people must know how to innovate, so we spend a significant amount of energy helping build innovation capabilities in each and every employee. Innovation is a skill like any other, and most of us have simply never been trained in innovation skills. At Intuit we start this process from the very first day new hires join the company, and continue through to the advanced training of our Innovation Catalysts. People are the secret.
To support our talented people, we provide a variety of innovation systems. These systems are designed to enable our people to set aside time for innovation projects, remove technology barriers and enable rapid experimentation. This includes the obvious enablers such as agile development and engineering skills, but also includes less obvious enablers such as experiment branding guidelines, finance support and our internal startup network, Brainstorm.
Of course one of the above would be effective without a culture of innovation. Culture begins with leadership, and at Intuit, our leaders “walk the walk.” From Intuit’s founder, Scott Cook, to our CEO, Brad Smith, leaders spend time with our customers, and put their ideas to the test just like we ask our teams to do. This creates an expectation that innovation is everyone’s job, not just a select few. Ideas are then released into the wild at our IntuitLabs.com website.
2. You’ve spoken before about the value of “lean startup” principles as important to innovation. How do you create that kind of environment in a large company like Intuit?
As I mentioned, we start by creating an overall culture of innovation, much of which is based on thinking and behaving like an entrepreneur. With this culture in place, we can quickly adopt new ways of working. The lean startup movement has emerged as a highly effective method for innovation, so when we discovered this new way of working, we leverage our existing systems to spread lean startup principles across Intuit.
We then developed a series of lean startup training courses to build these capabilities within each employee. People are the secret to breakthrough innovation, so we must be willing to invest in teaching employees how to be more entrepreneurial.
3. How does the culture of innovation feed into direct outputs? How do you measure innovation at Intuit? Are their metrics that the company uses to monitor its success as an innovator and the return on innovation investment?
Because we look at our innovation efforts holistically, our metrics tend to be associated with our organization’s overall performance. There is no specific “innovation metric” per se. Since we view innovation as everyone’s job, we’ve built innovation-related metrics into every product and employee. Our company values include innovation-related metrics for employees, and our business units track a variety of metrics relative to their individual goals. We also look at leading indicators such as: revenue from products which did not exist 3 years ago, employee engagement scores related to innovation, and new product experiments released in market. We’ve learned that the benefits of an innovative culture go beyond simple ROI for specific innovation programs.
4. Where would you say Intuit focuses most its innovation efforts? Is it about customer experience, products, delivery models?
We believe innovation is everyone’s job, so we encourage innovation across all areas of our business. In fact, some of our more exciting business impact projects have been related to internal processes such as legal, branding, finance and HR. Of course we encourage innovation in our products and services, and we’re seeing great results here, but one of the secrets to running an innovation program is to think beyond the product.
5. Which of the innovation tools that Intuit uses (unstructured time, horizon planning, internal innovation awards) drive the most concrete benefits that you have seen and why do you think that is?
Again, I feel there is no single “silver bullet” for innovation success. I encourage innovation leaders to think more holistically about their various programs, and how these programs work together to drive innovation. We are creating an innovation ecosystem within Intuit.
That being said, I believe our 10% unstructured time and lean startup training have had the biggest impact over the past few years. The truth is, without time to explore innovative ideas, organizations will struggle to prioritize innovation. So by creating “space” for teams to explore new ideas, official outlets for teams to attend our internal incubation programs, and the training to know how to take advantage of this time, we provide an outlet for our employees’ ideas. Our Design for Delight program has created a group of innovation experts, called Innovation Catalysts, who support these efforts across the company. These tools work together.
6. What do you feel is the most important tool for company leaders to undertake in order to make their organizations more innovative and drive business results?
My biggest piece of advice is to treat your innovation program as if it were a “product.” This means ensuring you are providing value to the organization, running experiments to continuously improve, and customizing it to fit your culture. This is not an easy task, but if you take the time to build a strong foundation the your organization can reap the rewards of an innovative culture for years to come. The trick is getting started.
Learn more about Bennett and how he drives innovation by connecting with him at www.linkedin.com/in/bennettblank