Promoting Operational Excellence at H&R Block

How H&R Block’s Scott Andreasen pushes himself and his legal team to “do the right thing”

Scott Andreasen, H&R Block

Scott Andreasen attributes much of his success to date to one key attribute: a growth mind-set borne out of intellectual curiosity. From his time studying business in college, Andreasen recognized early on that law would not only offer him better employment opportunities, but a greater sense of intellectual satisfaction. “I had always enjoyed reading, writing and learning simply for the sake of personal investment, and I saw the law as an avenue for pursuing all of those things,” he explains. This growth mind-set is also what drove him to obtain an MBA earlier this year to supplement his legal training, despite having what he describes as “a plate that was already pretty full.”

Before moving into his current role as vice president, deputy general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief ethics officer at tax-preparation giant H&R Block at the beginning of 2012, Andreasen honed his skills for many years as a corporate and securities associate in a large law firm and working in-house for a Fortune 100 corporation. These roles offered him many opportunities to learn the intricacies of law in a variety of contexts. When the offer came from H&R Block, he leapt at the chance to take a leadership position at what he felt was “an outstanding company.”

In both his personal and professional life, Andreasen consistently focuses on driving operational excellence in himself and others. To him, the concept of operational excellence consists of “the values, processes, actions, and daily habits that form a foundation on which strong performance can be built and goals can be achieved.” There are many different activities that can contribute to operational excellence. While exciting, high-visibility activities can attract the most attention, Andreasen is quick to point out the importance of the more mundane, “blocking and tackling” type of actions that are important pieces of the overall puzzle.

In his approach to operational excellence, Andreasen is most concerned with fostering beneficial basic habits and best practices in his staff and colleagues; once that is achieved, the rest can easily fall into place. With a strong foundation of operational excellence, “time is not wasted floundering around with unimportant details and unproductive actions that are not directly focused on the primary goal, which ultimately leads to better outcomes,” Andreasen says.

True operational excellence requires great leadership. To that end, Andreasen’s leadership style focuses on collaboration and professional development, which he says comes naturally at H&R Block.  “I am tremendously fortunate to be surrounded by truly excellent people, including a general counsel who has served as an outstanding mentor and my team of legal professionals who bring quality and enthusiasm to everything they do,” he notes.

Andreasen’s goal in his role at H&R Block is to help establish a culture of excellence, in which “expectations of quality are set very high and there is accountability for employees at all levels,” both internally with its staff and externally with its products and services.

Central to this culture of excellence is being proactive rather than reactive. “It’s far better to be out in front of things, anticipating issues and thinking ahead, rather than spending time each day playing catch up,” Andreasen says. This strong culture is also reflected by the everyday operations at the company, from the clarity of internal communications to the accuracy of documentation, all the way to whether there is an expectation of punctuality for meetings.

While it is important to get the basics of operational excellence down, Andreasen also notes the importance of “a culture of substantive excellence.” He believes there are many ways to express this. For instance, it can be seen in a team that analyzes an issue with especially rigorous depth—“whether they have truly drilled all the way to bedrock to arrive at the most optimal outcome”—or evincing a particularly strong level of innovative, creative thinking.

Andreasen believes that companies can achieve excellence when they “purposefully create an atmosphere in which people can thrive in their own personal and professional development.” When people strive for excellence on an individual basis, he says, they inevitably drive excellence on a company-wide basis as well.

As H&R Block’s chief ethics officer, Andreasen believes that ethics and excellence go hand in hand. Corporate social responsibility plays a pivotal role in Andreasen’s work and philosophy, which aligns with H&R Block’s mantra: “We do the right thing.”

According to Andreasen, “this belief has become ingrained in the collective consciousness, and is understood to mean that having impeccable ethics is simply a prerequisite for working at H&R Block. Nothing less is or should be tolerated.” Rather than treating compliance or a Code of Ethics as a begrudging necessity, Andreasen and H&R Block believe they are just one step toward maintaining the sense of integrity and morality that drives their corporate culture. “We don’t simply look to comply with our basic ethical obligations,” Andreasen says. “We look to ‘do the right thing’.”

Andreasen’s drive for operational excellence within H&R Block is inextricably tied to his growth mind-set and drive for personal improvement. “I think operational excellence is something that can and should be pursued at both an organizational level and an individual level,” he notes. To do so, he structures his thinking around the ways he invests his time, prioritizing his relationships, particularly with his family, first. Then Andreasen focuses on activities and habits that promote well-rounded personal and professional development, as well as on what he describes as “purpose . . . investing time in pursuit of the bigger questions in life.”

That pursuit of the bigger questions—that intellectual curiosity—has helped Andreasen drive operational excellence both personally and company-wide. For Andreasen, his work in crafting a culture of excellence involves “driving an unspoken expectation of quality work product, substantive expertise, and company-wide professionalism.” That constant drive to improve is helping to make H&R Block the most effective, ethically minded, and excellent company it can be.