March - 2007 - issue > Leadership
Harish Revanna
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Inside Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU, market cap of $10.5 Billion) India Center every employee is vouched to develop a leadership persona of his/her own. As the makers of financial management software for SMB and mom-and-pop customers hire tech superbs with unique cross-interests in business, leadership, customers and entrepreneurism, a dye to cast holistic leaders is being made. How then does Ranga Shetty, Head of Engineering, keep his head above amongst leaders? And what does he bring to the party?

What is expected of every leader is to bring his own initiatives, ideas and traits to the company. One of the most important contributions leaders provide in running an organization is taking decisions. Of course in companies brewing leaders every individual leader takes decisions on issues concerning them. But the complexity associated with issues gets higher as the leader progresses. For me a leader is one who takes the judgment calls. Early on one’s career, judgments for 80:20 calls (80 percent chances of success and 20 percent chances of failure) enamors people, once at the peak of their career 51:49 is a call to be made with no choices. Experience, value system and the culture in which a leader is raised no-doubt hones his abilities of decision making, but before that there are always certain questions he needs to answer or clarify.

What is the problem or the complexity?
Often, employees understand the task and think through the situation presented to them. While there is clarity of thought in understanding the problem, clarity in framing the problem is undermined. Thanks to Steve Bennett, my CEO, for teaching me this art of framing the problem. It is important to draw the line between main and ancillary issues involved in each of the problem.

Who is the decision maker?
It is important in this global work environment to make it crystal clear to my employees as to who has the final say about any decision. Be it decision made by small teams or even the entire company, engineers should be aware of who is the decision maker, who approves the appointment of the decision-maker, who contributes to the decision and who is impacted by it.

Answering these two questions helps leaders take control of any complex situation. Also they’re now at the steering wheel of driving decisions—like said earlier—made through experience, values and culture. However, methods of implementing decisions are very idiosyncratic. Leaders belong to different schools of thought with regards to successful implementation of a decision—and some change schools experientially. During my eight long years at HP and even a decade after that, I believed that consensus driven culture helps in decision making and implementation. But today at Intuit, I believe in shared vision culture. Look at the simple quadrant for easy understanding:

Once a leader makes the decision, he awaits a response to them. In the value and the knowledge driven industry we work in, it’s impossible to bring into consensus the entire intelligentsia to implement a single decision. It is sheer waste of time, as we wait for the un-come-at-able. That is consensus driven culture where everyone agrees and commits (Quadrant I). However, true leadership, today amongst intellects, is about convincing all of them to commit albeit their disagreement with the decision made. That which we at Intuit address as the Shared Vision Culture (Quadrant III).

What is interesting to note in this shared vision concept is: success is not guaranteed nor the decisions always right. The culture (or concept when practiced) helps you get closer to success, but assurance is only on speed and accuracy of problem solving. For example, without having to get the ship moving, there is no course correction to reach the right destination. In consensus-driven-culture often time is spilt over getting to decide the right destination, paralyzing oneself into inaction. Whereas shared vision not only sets the ship moving but gradually corrects the course even if headed in wrong direction. In turn shunning fear away from employees and maintaining contingency plans to overcome failures at every level.

That even sums up some values at Intuit. To share a few, “think smart and act fast” sets the tone for putting oneself into action first while constantly discovering smarter ways of doing it (like ship analogy of course-correction). And second, the integrity employees exhibit at the most dichotic situations or an on-the-fence issue is also an outcome of such shared vision culture. However, Scott Cook, our co-founder and chairman, explains about maintaining integrity with a tennis court analogy. “In tennis,” Cook says, “there is always this gray element when the ball lobs on the line. You never know if it fell in or out, but what you do learn is to constantly try lobbing the ball at the bang center of the court. Integrity is a combined effort to lob the ball at the center.”

It is thus important to realize that values reflect every action of a leader. People in Quadrant II are also the ones who often have high values attached with their actions, while in Quadrant IV there are little values in person leading to sabotage of decision. However, leaders do have the capacity to identify employees in these different quadrants and bring back to the home of shared vision.

As a newbie in the industry when I often thought what kind of leader I wanted to be, I dreamed about being a unique one. But only later did I discover through the works of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book “Built to Last,” that there exist two kinds of leaders: Time tellers and Clockmakers. Time tellers are the gifted individuals who can gaze at cosmic bodies and their positioning just to tell the exact time. Clockmakers, on the other hand, are painstaking individuals who build clocks. Clockmakers’ hard work of assembling all the raw materials, shaping them up and putting processes in place while constantly redefining them, leaves behind with us a clock that tells time irrespective of their presence, unlike the time tellers who take away their time-telling capabilities along with them. Today, I would like to be a clockmaker leader—bringing my own ideas and initiatives to the party.

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