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Colin Walsh Shares Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture

Building skills early on in understanding people is key; recognizing when people are not going to fit is also important. You can only put…

Colin Walsh founder and CEO of Varo Money

Building skills early on in understanding people is key; recognizing when people are not going to fit is also important. You can only put up with people who don’t live the values for so long before they erode the culture.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Colin Walsh from Varo Money for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.

Colin Walsh is the founder and CEO of Varo Money. Varo’s app has had over 250,0000 downloads just 10 months after launching on Apple’s App Store. On the personal front, as a member of the Board of Directors for the Friends of the British Film Institute (BFI), Colin has helped spearhead several successful events in the U.S. and increased the number of patrons.


Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?

Colin Walsh: We actually have five values that we crafted based on the kind of company we want to be. They are: 1) Customers First; 2) Respect; 3) Make It Better; 4) Take Ownership; and 5) Stay Curious. Our values form the foundation of our culture and guide our decision-making on a daily basis.

Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”

Colin: Although hard to generalize, it’s often said that millennials look for more validation and recognition of their work. Millennials also tend to place a lot of value on work-life balance. I don’t want to reinforce any stereotypes since we see people across the full spectrum of experience and work styles. In my view, the most we can do as CEOs is bring out the best in people and create the space for them to bring their full selves to work. That means respecting differences and creating a healthy work environment.

Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.

Colin: Crystal clear purpose. Always be prepared to share why your company exists and what it is doing to make the world a better place. Companies that have an authentic purpose to which the team feels connected tend to have stronger cultures. I like to regularly talk with my team about why we founded Varo and the role we play in our customers’ lives.

Lead by example. Walk the talk and put the customer first. I wake up every morning and look at app reviews and Google the company, among other things, to see us the way the consumer sees us. I expect that others follow that example and share my passion for knowing what our customers are saying about us.

Communicate. Be clear and transparent. Share what’s going on — both the good and the challenging. It’s OK to be vulnerable and up front that there are some things for which we don’t have answers and are working to solve.

Have fun. We have a group of colleagues that design fun events for the whole team, something we call the “Fun Scrum.” As a fast-growing fintech, things can be intense as we have big investors with big expectations. But we also have to blow off steam, have fun and build relationships with each other.

Listen to customers and colleagues. It’s my experience that creating a listening and learning culture is really important. With colleagues we do that via small group coffee socials and our regular all-hands Monday morning meeting, for example. And, with customers, we have a lot of listening posts, such as app reviews, “Suggest a Feature” in the app, NPS surveys and customer service in all social media channels. We socialize this feedback with the whole team through Slack and in a regular meeting called “Voice of the Customer.”

Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?

Colin: They don’t walk the talk. The company might have a mission and values — at least on paper — but ultimately they may end up trying to optimize for short-term profit. They make trade-offs that don’t lead to good outcomes for the customer. Another thing that can hinder a strong, healthy environment is lack of authentic leadership. If you believe in the purpose of the company you will have more success at creating a strong work culture. Lastly, too often company leaders simply want to have their old ideas validated rather than go through the challenge of bringing in new ideas. But listening to people is essential to creating and building a strong, healthy work environment and that leads to better results for both customers and employees.

As a CEO, my time-efficient advice is a little bit of “trust your gut” and know that your gut gets better over time. I also advise others to fail fast. If something’s not working, you can fix it if you don’t wait too long

Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?

Colin: Overconfidence is something I have observed; and also not valuing experience. For example, new companies can run afoul of regulators because they simply don’t understand — or don’t think they need to follow — the laws. Take Uber’s former CEO, who ultimately was ousted for exactly this behavior. I believe you need to bring all your stakeholders along the journey with you, understanding that not everyone will bend to what you want. You need to find ways to achieve win-win situations.


Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?

Colin: All CEOs are under this pressure, no matter how old or young, but experienced CEOs may benefit from better pattern recognition. There are very few things that I see that are new. You can see the trends, act faster and make quicker decisions; that comes with decades of experience. For example, newer leaders may make hiring decisions because of expediency — and there is no doubt that hiring is hard especially when you are growing quickly — but it’s very important to get key hiring decisions right.

Another example relates to speed. Do you ship or keep iterating? My bias is toward action and gaining quick learning and feedback from real customers. Less experienced leaders may take longer to make decisions, or may be slower to recognize when they aren’t working out.

As a CEO, my time-efficient advice is a little bit of “trust your gut”and know that your gut gets better over time. I also advise others to fail fast. If something’s not working, you can fix it if you don’t wait too long.

I believe you need to bring all your stakeholders along the journey with you, understanding that not everyone will bend to what you want. You need to find ways to achieve win-win situations.

Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?

Colin: Two books that have made an impact on me are “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek and “Built to Last” by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. These books are all about focus on customers, purpose and building long-lasting companies. And a book I read early on in my career, ”Dealing with Difficult People” by Charles Keating, has proven to be very influential over time.

At the end of the day, it’s all about people, aligning strategies and personal interests. Some people fall in easily, while others need more coaching and have different ways of doing things. Building skills early on in understanding people is key; recognizing when people are not going to fit is also important. You can only put up with people who don’t live the values for so long before they erode the culture.

Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?

Colin: I often ask people to test what level of sponsorship they think have with influential people other than their boss in the company. Do they have a trusted sponsor or mentor where they can go and get counsel? Someone who will stand up for them? If they don’t have someone in the company, then it’s not worth it to stay; my advice is to get another job. Bosses can make you miserable. In fact, we know that people quit bosses not companies. This is why it’s so important to invest in the people managing people in your organization.

Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?

Colin: The best hour of my week is doing coffee sessions with small groups that represent a cross-section of the broader team. People feel they have a direct line to the CEO and I listen and take notes. It’s easygoing and we all get a coffee. This is something I have been doing my whole career, even at larger companies. You show up at an operations site and have a coffee for an hour with people. It’s just a great way for everyone to get to know each other and to know you care and are listening.


A note to the readers: Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.

A special thanks to Colin Walsh again!

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Originally published at medium.com

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