Business Intuition

Intuit's Sherry Whiteley managed to revitalize company values and make the organization a great place to work, maintaining a good relationship with the CEO in the process.

Thursday, October 2, 2003
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Sometimes you just fall into something; so easily in fact, that you find yourself looking around one day and wondering, "Wow, how'd I get here?" When she tells the story of how she came to be vice president of human resources at Intuit Inc., a financial software services firm in Mountain View, Calif., HR Honor Roll winner Sherry Whiteley sounds as if she's doing just that -- looking around, a little surprised at how things unfolded in her career, but regretting nothing.

"I wasn't looking for a job," she says, describing how she had started her own executive search practice and was quite happy there when an acquaintance called her three years ago to tell her about a job opportunity heading up HR for an almost-billion-dollar company.

She admits she didn't jump at the opportunity at first. "I said, 'Oh, I'm not interested; the only company I would be interested in anyway is Intuit.' " The caller replied, "It is Intuit," so she set up a meeting with the company's president and CEO the following day and eventually got the job.

In With The New

One of Whiteley's goals after she hopped on board was to continue to make Intuit a great place to work for its 7,000 employees (twice named by Fortune magazine) as well as a high-performing organization. But to do this she would have to make some changes. She didn't necessarily want to change the culture and operating values of the company, which include such slogans as "integrity without compromise" and "we care back," but revitalize them to answer the needs of the now-growing company, she says.

She did this by teaming up with President and CEO Steve Bennett to create the Employee Value Proposition, a document given to new employees at orientation and on the Intuit intranet, outlining what employees can expect from their leaders and their workplace. The EVP is also a guide for Intuit leaders detailing their commitment to their employees.

With these new and stronger values in place, Whiteley focused on the "recognition" value of the EVP and making sure employees felt rewarded. She implemented an online reward and recognition tool for managers that is funded by 1 percent of the payroll to ensure budget constraints wouldn't prevent employees from being rewarded. Managers can instantly recognize employees for going above and beyond the call of duty, for acts of leadership and for serving customers well, and can customize a message and choose which reward they would like to give to employees.

Not only did she subscribe to the EVP, Whiteley also played a critical role in implementing the often used Japanese management-style framework that suggests managers take account for seven strategies to successfully complete one. This 7S strategy structure model that Whiteley and now all other leaders at Intuit embrace, includes shared values and vision, strategy, structure, systems, skills, staffing and style.

Taking the 7S structure strategy to heart, among all the others, Whiteley changed the communication system of the company and implemented a new top-down communications approach for the rapidly growing organization. Before, decisions weren't made in a timely matter because everyone was involved in every decision, a holdover from Intuit's earlier years when employees numbered less than 1,000.

Now, under Whiteley's new strategy, leaders at the top make the decision with some input from key people in each business unit, making things much more efficient and adding more accountability to a decision. This efficiency, according to Whiteley, will help support Intuit's growth from a $1 billion company to a $10 billion company in the next 10 years.

"For most of the suggested changes, it wasn't about things not being right; it was about what we needed to bring from the past and what we needed to create for the future," she says.

Weaving in Excellence

A firm believer in communication, Whiteley establishes monthly virtual meetings via conference calls with leaders and HR employees at Intuit's 16 major sites nationwide to help them achieve their goals. She also constructed her team of HR executives by linking business executives with managers.

This new organizational structure, known as the "weave," established a team of professionals who supported each other and the business and drove HR's core process. Whiteley, who believes HR can accomplish more if it works hand-in-hand with the CEO and upper management, says several of HR's priorities are at the top of the CEO's list of corporate priorities. "When it starts at the top like that, it makes it so easy to drive an HR agenda to help with growth," she says.

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With the dream "weave" team created, Whiteley embedded what she calls Process Excellence -- the tools and methods used to help business leaders and employees carry out the Intuit business model in the most effective way possible -- in the HR organization, systems and processes. She also reorganized internal talent and added senior staff with executive-level recruiting experience to help other business units improve as well.

Always looking to increase value and reduce costs, she saw to it that a new and improved benefits package at Intuit included group long-term care insurance for employees and their families, mortgage loan services and concierge services.

"Under Sherry's leadership, our human resource organization has evolved from a traditional support function into a strategic business partner for leaders throughout the company," says Bennett. "She is helping to design and strengthen the organization to help Intuit stay ahead of its growth."

David Bell-Isle, vice president of organizational excellence at Intuit, says Whiteley has been instrumental in the company's progress. "Not only does she do her job well . . . in the course of her three years here, I would say the HR community has been 100 percent renewed." What makes Whiteley unique, he says, is her ability to make what she does seem effortless.

But Whiteley laughs when anyone implies that she makes what she's done (and still is doing) in her role as vice president of HR seem easy. She knows there will be challenges in the future, the biggest hurdle being the upswing of the market. At the moment, Intuit is growing and thriving in a market that's not, she says. Her task will be to ensure the company does the right things to retain the workers it's now recruiting and developing so they won't want to leave when the market turns.

"That challenge is looming out there with a capital 'C,' and we really won't know the answer to that until it turns and we see what happens to our top talent."

However big the challenge, Whiteley says she is ready to further extend her HR skills at Intuit, and easily sums up her time and accomplishments at the company in a few words: "It's been fun."

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