Matt Oppenheimer Shares 5 Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture

By Krish Chopra

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By Krish Chopra

“Have the courage to speak up about your concerns, and offer some possible solutions that will help improve the situation. Then take the time to observe your bosses work and behavioral style — what are their pet peeves, preferences, stress level, how do they like to communicate, etc. The more you can match your style to your boss’s style when communicating, the more they will really hear what you’re saying.”

Thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us your “backstory”?

I’m Matt Oppenheimer, CEO and co-founder of Remitly. Remitly is the largest private digital remittance company headquartered in the U.S. helping customers send over $5 billion in annualized volume to loved ones around the world. I have had the honor of being awarded the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 in the Pacific Northwest and have been recognized as a Puget Sound Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree. I’ve also had the pleasure of earning my MBA from Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dartmouth College.

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

Self Care: I’m a true advocate for self-care and encourage everyone within Remitly to take the time to recharge on the weekends or during the day. This can be exercise, meditation, prayer, spending time with family — whatever gives our employees balance and recharges them for the next milestone we encourage them to do.

Diversity: We place an emphasis on building a strong culture by hiring a diverse team. Diversity in gender, race and religion, are both personal and company goals. We focus on hiring a workforce that reflects the diverse customer base we serve, individuals eager to collaborate, and who are respectful and understanding. We take this journey seriously and has proactively hired women into over 44% of our engineering and technical roles over the past year with the aim to always continuously improve this .

Mission: Our team is mission-driven through and through. We care deeply about the impact we have. . We are working towards being the best financial service for immigrant communities across the world.

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

The way Millennials communicate today ―texting, tweeting, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.―is continuous and all in real-time. That constant communication Millennials engage in impacts the workplace in that Millennials no longer want just an annual performance review, they want constant engagement and feedback on how they are performing. At Remitly, we prioritize having frequent one-on-one meetings with managers on top of an annual and 360 review. Regular meetings and consistent feedback pay dividends not only in engagement, but also in performance. Employees in general who meet regularly with their manager perform better for their team and company.

What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Set a company wide goal: When you first start a company or business, you have to set a mission in order to make sure every employee knows what they’re working towards. At Remitly, we’ve set our mission to be the best financial service for immigrant communities across the world. When you create a common goal for each employee to work towards, you create camaraderie and ambition within the company.

Encourage self-care and vacations: It’s so easy to get burned out. Make sure you set rules that allow people to feel they can take time-off or take the time to recharge. Once you’ve set those rules, lead by example. For me, I take the time to meditate and spend my weekends away from work. Encouraging a company culture of self-care leads to higher employee engagement and happiness.

Culture is evolving: Company culture is always evolving. The process of influencing your company’s culture will be ongoing as you rapidly grow and hire new employees. You should be in a constant state of conscious engagement with it. For Remitly, we’ve doubled in size in the past two years and in that time we’ve had to evaluate if our company culture is still aligned with our core values. Taking the time to step back and evaluate will be key as you grow.

Focus on community engagement: Great companies let their passion for their employees show by standing up for their customers and employees and getting involved in issues that will affect them. Good leaders also stay actively engaged in the local communities they live in, or the communities their company/product impacts. For me it’s important to give back to the community that’s given so much to me and Remitly such as creating opportunities for customers’ families to work for us in the countries they live in, provide scholarships for students in need in those countries, waive fees in times of need such as natural disasters, etc.

Celebrate perseverance: As a company, you will hit 1,000 different walls at the same time. How you persevere through those walls will matter in establishing your company culture. When we first established Remitly, I camped out with my co-founder Shivaas Gulati at the consulate in Mumbai telling them for days why Shivaas was important to Remitly. We got Shivaas a visa and established that Remitly will always fight for our employees and customers, and will persevere through any wall.

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?

I find that growing quickly tends to be the catalyst for companies that miss out on creating healthy work environments. The Silicon Valley mantra of “break things now and apologize later” is what’s causing recent shocking company culture stories come to surface. I also think that little to no communication from the top to the bottom can inhibit creating a healthy work environment. Establishing a healthy work environment is reliant on communicating well in advance, with leaders even asking the staff to help find solutions.

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

Often time it’s leaders who get caught up in vanity metrics and premature opportunities that prevent them from leadership success. Then there are the founders who are insecure and prevent others around them from succeeding by inhibiting any ownership or higher leadership roles.

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?

You can never over-communicate enough. Communicate the company values, metrics, goals, successes, learning’s, vision and mission all the time. And if you don’t have the time to do it individually, then organize an all-hands meeting every month or quarter. It’s a time efficient task that will help your whole team feel aligned with the company. Or you can create “office hours,” which dedicates a space and time where employees can tell you how they’re doing, share what’s bothering them, and offer feedback on you and the company. By having these brief interactions, you can defuse the little issues that typically spiral into larger issues later on.

Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture? Please feel free to share a person, book, another company, etc.

My grandmother, Jane Oppenheimer. Despite going through everything from having Polio when she was a teenager to serving in the Red Cross during World War II, she was always inspiringly optimistic. Her signature phrase was “It will all work out”, which is important to remember as an entrepreneur. She also taught me to find something you’re truly passionate about and then don’t give up trying to solve it.

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

Have the courage to speak up about your concerns, and offer some possible solutions that will help improve the situation. Then take the time to observe your bosses work and behavioral style — what are their pet peeves, preferences, stress level, how do they like to communicate, etc. The more you can match your style to your boss’s style when communicating, the more they will really hear what you’re saying.

Last question — what’s one unique thing (hack) you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?

Created a mission-driven culture focused on immigrant communities. We’ve built a company that solves a really important problem for an often overlooked community. This mission is why most people apply to work with us, and what keeps them motivated and eager to continue this important work. Our employees feel valued like they’re doing something really important (because they are) which helps our workforce continue to push together in one direction.

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