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How to lead by getting out of the way

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in Leaders & Managers,Team Building

CEOs often claim to run customer-centric organizations. But few follow through as fully as Brad Smith.

Smith, CEO of Intuit, runs a financial software company with almost $4 billion in revenue and more than 50 million customers. His firm’s mission is to offer solutions that change people’s financial lives.

To accomplish that, Smith wants his employees to get close to Intuit’s customers. How? By studying their daily lives.

His team spends nearly 10,000 hours a year observing customers at home and at work. They get to know their customers by sitting with them in their home offices in the United States or visiting their rural farms in India. As a result, they identify everyday challenges customers face along with opportunities to improve Intuit’s products to address buyers’ needs.

Through firsthand observation, for ex­­am­­ple, Intuit’s team noticed that customers were seeking ways to make mobile payments more easily. So the company developed products such as Intuit GoPayment and IntuitPayment Network that provide mobility solutions for small businesses so they can accept credit cards more seamlessly to get paid faster online.

Even though Smith oversees a workforce of about 8,000 people, he spurs innovation by getting out of the way. Rather than micromanage, he prods employees to think like entrepreneurs launching a business. He wants staffers to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

To encourage collaboration, he instituted “Idea Jams” in which teams can meet in an informal, unstructured manner to identify ways to delight customers. Then they come up with proposals and pre­sent them in a fun in-house competition; it’s like a science fair devoted to developing ideas rather than building rockets.

From his own experience as an entrepreneur, Smith knows that the best results flow from small bands of passionate em­­ployees.

His “two pizza rule” urges product development teams to limit their size to only enough people that two pizzas can feed.

— Adapted from “Brad Smith, Intuit CEO: How to be a great leader: get out of the way,” David K. Williams, www.forbes.com.

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