Please enjoy this transcript of this episode with Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia, Claude Silver. It was transcribed and therefore might contain a few typos.
Claude Silver: 00:00 That feedback is a gift and when you don’t give someone feedback, you are unconsciously manipulating their growth and development. And I mean then, what are we doing?
Doug Smith: 00:10 This is the L3 Leadership podcast, episode number 228.
Doug Smith: 00:28 What’s up everyone? And welcome to another episode of the L3 Leadership podcast. My name is Doug Smith and I am your host. I hope you’re doing well in today’s episode. You are in for a treat. You’ll hear my interview with Claude Silver, who is the chief heart officer at VaynerMedia. And if you are unfamiliar with Claude, she is incredible. You need to follow her. And she, as I mentioned, is the chief heart officer at VaynerMedia. And in that position, she oversees anything and everything that has to do with people including but not limited to talent management, employee experience and retention, learning and development, coaching culture, internal communications and recruitment for over 800 employees. We talk about what she does day to day. We talk about why every organization needs a chief heart officer. We talk about how she stays in touch and knows every one of her 800 plus employees and what they love and their families.
Doug Smith: 01:19 We also talk a lot about leadership growth and development, her view on leadership development within Vayner media. We talk a lot about providing feedback and training leaders to give feedback, a lot of interesting content there and it’s so much more and we also take her through the lightning round, which is always a blast. And so I, I just absolutely loved this time with Claude. I know you will too. So I highly encourage you after you’ve listened to the interview to connect with her on social media and followers and follow her. She also has a podcast that I recommend checking out as well. A just a quick announcement before we dive into the interview. We do have a date for our second annual L3 one-day Conference that’s going to be happening on Friday, March 13th, 2020 here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And we took all the feedback we received from our first-year conference and are making a ton of changes and we are committed in making this year’s conference 10 times better.
Doug Smith: 02:10 So save the date, mark it on your calendar. Friday, March 13th Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, L3 On- day, 2.0 we are so excited. It’s going to be a great day and look for more info on that coming up in the near future. So with that being said, let’s dive right into the interview and I will be back at the end with a few announcements. Hey Claude, thank you so much for being willing to do this interview. And you are the chief heart officer at Vayner media and Gary has actually said that this is the most important position in the organization. And so for those listening, I’m just curious, could you just provide a little context for what a chief heart officer is and maybe how it’s a little different than a head of HR?
Claude Silver: 02:48 Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Doug Smith: Yeah.
Claude Silver: So we originally set this position up to scale Gary, and because he is a very people-focused, a positive leader, he saw the same in me and that we both lead with empathy and lead with a servant leader mindset. And we decided that we would put this together and not have it be head of HR, but we would have it be overseeing all of the people and the heartbeats, human beings, that are in the company. And if you think about it, you know, the heart is our central nervous system. It’s what keeps us going and human beings, people keep an organization going. So I’m taking care of all of the humans, the hearts here. I have an HR team that takes care of the traditional T’s and C’s and all of those things. But my job really is to scale Gary to make decisions that as he says, might make no sense on paper, but make all the sense on heart. Meaning we’re looking at things from an emotional intelligence point of view, not from an EQ, but from the heart and coming into issues, challenges, situations with that Lens rather than the, Oh my God, profit, profit, profit, profit, bottom line. You stink. You’re out. It’s okay, wait a second., let’s look at the holistic system here.
Doug Smith: 04:19 Yeah. And I’m curious, how did, how did you even land this role, right? I mean if it’s that important to the heartbeat of your company or Gary’s company, how did you roll that? How did, yeah. How did you land this position?
Claude Silver: 04:30 Yeah, great question. I was here already for 16 months and so I was, I’m an SVP and I was running two large books of business. People had always been at the center of what I do in coaching and mentoring and or ambient player, that player-coach type of person. And it was time for me to move on. I was, I was no longer interested in doing the advertising portion of my career, which I had, you know, knock on wood a really successful advertising career. And I let Gary know that it was time to move on. Thank you so much. And he said, what is it that you’re interested in? And I said, I only care about the heartbeat of this place. I only care about the people. And so months and months later we created this position. So I landed it by having I think a, a, you know, an entire life experience already of being a people person and, and thinking through things with my heart. And I had already, like I said, been here. So I really had the DNA. I was already drinking the water here and it seemed like he and I see things extremely similarly and we act on things very similarly. So it was he had a trust already.
Doug Smith: 05:45 Yeah, I was going to ask us later and maybe that that is the answer, but I’m just curious as you’ve been in this position, what do you do intentionally, to one, learn Gary’s heart, learn what he expects and make sure that that’s actually is what happened, what’s happening in the organization?
Claude Silver: 05:59 Yeah. Well. So I had been following Gary since 2009 and so I had an idea of how he thought already before I started here. I started in May 2014 and so being his first SVP that he hired, you know, I, I spent a lot of time with him. I was able to see how he functioned in meetings and how he functioned with clients and what was important to him and what, what was he always driving home and what he was always driving home was patience and positivity, positivity. So I’m someone that notices patterns and I could pick up on those patterns pretty quickly. And the way in which we walked through the world as I was saying is so similar that it wasn’t, it wasn’t a big jump for me to translate him into Claude-speak, you know, because I’m obviously were two sides of the same coin, but are, are two sides are quite different in terms of how we speak, if you will. So, I know that the only thing that matters to him, the only thing is how we are treating each other. So, you know, when I asked him how do we know if I’m successful in this role, he said the following, you will touch every single human being and infuse the agency with empathy. And that’s my job description. So it’s mine every day to figure out how, not only how I’m going to do that, I’m going to scale that. And that’s the challenge.
Doug Smith: 07:31 Yeah. So let’s talk about that. How do you tactically, you may have more than this at one point you said you work for 800 humans and you’re in touch with the heartbeat of every single person in the company. I worked in an organization, we have 67 staff and I know the challenge of trying to do that with just 67. How do you tactically day to day make sure that you’re doing that?
Claude Silver: 07:49 Yeah, it’s really, it’s magical because I spent so much time now with almost every human being, every employee here that when I see them on repeat or when I go and visit their offices, I already have a good chunk of my memories filled with what are they about? What is their focus? Do they have kids? Whatever it is, I’ve, you know, do they like the Redskins? I mean, I’ve held onto certain types of information totally based on who I am and how I,
Doug Smith: 08:20 Yeah, I was gonna say you, so you don’t take notes or anything. I mean, this isn’t a CRM, it’s not you looking and saying, okay, it’s just memory.
Claude Silver: 08:27 No.
Doug Smith: Wow, that’s impressive.
Claude Silver: A smarter person would’ve put it into a CRM, but then it’s, it’s just words in an excel spreadsheet. And the lucky thing is that I have developed great relationships with people and they have reciprocated. They want to spend time with me. So it’s, you know, we’re always, I’m always kind of, I’m circling with some constant and circling these people and then I have wonderful, wonderful team that is touching these people as well and feeding me information on how they’re doing or what they might be challenged with. We’ve created culture champions here who I also know, and I trust that, you know, if Bobby sees Sally having a really rough day, hopefully, Bobby’s either gonna take care of that and see how she’s doing and why or send or send me a message or send someone on my team so that we can reach out and see what’s going on. So the scaling is human relationships.
Doug Smith: 09:30 Yeah. And just so someone’s having a bad day, what’s an example of something that you would do to, to take care of that?
Claude Silver: 09:36 Well if I know about that, I’m definitely gonna reach out and be like, hey, how are you doing? Want to chat? Or Hey, what’s up? We haven’t chatted in a while. You know, you’re into it. And usually, those people, because they don’t know necessarily why I really don’t. They’re like, yes, I would love to. And so if they’re here in New York City that we have a one on one in my office or wherever they’re located, and I just ask them, what’s, you know, I asked them what’s going on? And sometimes it’s that obvious. Sometimes it’s like, Hey, is there anything I can help you with? If you had a magic wand, what would we do? I play rose, bud, thorn and I’m listening for what the thorn is figuring out. Like if they’re frustrated with their manager, are they frustrated because their limiting beliefs have reared their ugly head and they feel really insecure. You know? So it’s a lot of asking the question, listening to what people say and then finding solutions together.
Doug Smith: 10:32 Yeah, talk through. I’m curious how you deal with the tougher issues in leadership. Maybe it’s a company gossip, maybe it’s conflict, a performance issues. It sounds like a lot of your job is, you know, the hard side of things, but how do you deal with the difficult things that also include the heart? I’m just curious how you,
Doug Smith: 10:49 you work through those?
Claude Silver: Yeah, I mean by the way, I deal with it all like the heart just cause it’s sappy, right? I mean the heart is in our bodies and our bodies go through all kinds of aches and pains. So I’m dealing with whether or not you have a migraine or whether or not you just pumped iron and you feel really rad. You know? So it’s, it is the whole kitten caboodle here. And I mean, I’ve got more issues and people with shoes than ever before because we’ll large now. So whether or not it’s really super hot in New York and we need to, adhere to a certain dress code, that’s an issue because someone is really offended by whatever short shorts or body hair or whatever, you know, whatever. I mean, these are real human issues.
Claude Silver: 11:42 Whether or not it’s that, we need to do more unconscious bias training and, recognize that there are people here with different beliefs, different religious beliefs. And how do you attend to that? How do you train your managers to know how to be empathetic and kind around that and not, you know, say, well, I don’t have your beliefs, so no, you have to come in for work or whatever. So it’s all, you know, it’s, it’s so human here. It’s so life on life’s terms is what I say. And then there’s also the other things which is like I got a really poor review and I disagree with it or I got a poor review and I found out that the three people I work with were asked to feed in on that or only gave me x percent raise and I think I’m worth so forth and so on and my buddy got that raise.
Claude Silver: 12:35 Why didn’t I get that?
Doug Smith: How do you, I’m just curious, how do you, how often do you do reviews and how are those done?
Claude Silver: Well, we do biannual annual reviews right now, six months cycle depending on where you fall, but we’ve moved to radical candor feedback where it’s a much more frequent feedback. You don’t have to wait six months and you don’t have to wait three months. You, we’ve trained our managers now and our leaders to know how to give personalized feedback, which doesn’t criticize the personality of that person, but we want to grow and develop that person. So that is helping us in a more frequent feedback cycle. And it’s really helped us understand that feedback is a gift. And when you don’t give someone feedback, you are unconsciously manipulating their growth and development. And I mean the, what are we doing and what do we doing?
Doug Smith: I’m curious, in your experience, what have you found to be the best way to grow and develop?
Doug Smith: 13:34 I would say leaders, but people in general.
Clause Silver: Yeah, I think the, I think the first thing is understanding that every, there are two things. One, there’s a common denominator I think of what people want to learn so that they can advance to their career and advance up a ladder. So they need certain, manager training. They need to know how to give feedback, they need to know how to write emails, they need to know how to conduct themselves with clients and how to, you know, make small talk. Those are the things that are really, really important. And then I think based on certain skills or departments that they’re in, they’re gonna need very niche training because that’s the way that they were. Often they will also show achievement, so meeting people where they are in a cohort or as individuals is how I go about it.
Claude Silver: 14:24 And again, because I’m listening to patterns all day. If I’m meeting with 10 people that have started a and there are someone at a junior intermediate level and they’ve all mentioned in one way or the other that they don’t know how to conduct one on ones with the people that manage it to them. I recognized that we need to do that training as if it’s those 10 people I actually know it’s 200 people. So it’s really listening and then creating and learning and development curriculums based on what the floor is telling you they need. Not based on what I think they need. I mean, yeah, I have a pretty good judge of character and judge of people, but I need to hear what they’re looking for and then we can marry those two together.
Doug Smith: 15:11 Yeah. I’m curious, as soon as you help people grow and develop, what patterns have you seen in the people that tend to take what they’re given to grow with and they go to the next level where they grow versus those who kind of just get stuck, hit a lid and then, and then fall away?
Claude Silver: 15:24 Yeah, that’s actually a really great question. The people that, that they take the gift of that keep on going or people usually that I think, having an innate ability to raise their hand and ask questions. They ask why they say, I don’t understand. Can you explain that? Can you give me some homework reading assignment? Can you spend more time with me and walk me through how to do x, y, and Z. I think the other people that take the learning and then sleepwalk or don’t, or are afraid to ask questions because they don’t want to be seen as less than or whatever it is. You can only do so much for that individual, you know? And I think we have, we all fall into this. We all have the ability to falling into a kind of asleep walking traps, not recognizing that, you know, we were a team of collaborators here and so we rely on one another to do their part and to be accountable. And so when one person isn’t holding their weight, it’s felt everywhere.
Doug Smith: 16:30 Yeah. So along those lines, how long will you give someone on the empathy side time to grow to the point where it’s just like, okay, you’ve had x amount of time, this clearly isn’t working out.
Claude Silver: 16:43 Yeah. I mean I think it’s really, you know, by 90 days you kind of have a feel for a person and they kind of have a feel for you. So I would probably say, you know, six, nine, 12 months, but 12 months is going to be really pushing it by 90 days. And I would say if we’re really honest, by 60 days, I’m sorry, by 120 days you really do get an idea if the person is latching and getting who we are. You know, we’re a funny place in which we, we give trust first and early on. You don’t earn it here.
Doug Smith: 17:20 Yeah. I love that. Last question before I go into what I call the lightning round. You talked a little bit about learning Gary’s heart over the years that you worked with them before you’re in the position. What advice do you have for, for anyone in any organization in serving their leader? How can they best learn the heart of their leader? How to best serve them, to make sure that they’re the greatest team member they can be and maybe set themselves up for promotion in the future?
Claude Silver: 17:42 Yeah, so I’d say the first one is asking that that leader, how you can provide value. So it’s not what would you like me to do? You’ve got to go a little bit deeper than that, which is how can I provide value and make your life easier and listening for those responses, it’s going to give you a somewhat of a headstart. So if your leader is saying, listen, I want you to blanket the entire agency and make sure you’re filling it with empathy, you get an idea of that person’s heart immediately. If you say, I want you to go micromanage, so forth and so on, team, you get an idea that person’s pretty controlling. But once you to doing, that’s a fear-based society. So spending time asking the right questions, how can I provide value? Absolutely spending time with that leader as much as you can even ask if you could sit down on meetings just to observe. Super Helpful. If you have that kind of leader who’s open to that kind of audience. If your leader is public, certainly study that person, you know? But I would say spend time with those close to your leader also. Whether or not that’s a season or other senior leadership and get out and get an idea, get a texture for what makes the organization tick cause that’s coming from the top.
Doug Smith: 18:58 I do want to go back, processing this. I taught you when you talked about, I think, I don’t know if you call it a radical candor and the way providing coaching feedback, but so it seems like someone like Gary would be more prone to just give feedback quick, honest to the point, but I’m sure in 800 plus staff you have, there are also people that are naturally people pleasers, run from that kind of thing. How do you train people to have hard conversations and be honest with people about where they’re at as giving them a gift, as you said?
Claude Silver: Yeah. Well we take people to this feedback training.
Doug Smith: What does, yeah, what does that look like?
Claude Silver: 19:32 Every single person. It’s walking people through. Why we don’t give feedback as human beings because we’re afraid to hurt people if we don’t have anything nice to say. Don’t say anything at all. And then walking them through the other side of the pendulum, which is the gift part, which is if we are here to set each other up to shine and we need to help someone shine, which is pointing observations out, even though feedback most of the time is subjective. So there’s a fine line. You’ve got to walk there between subject objects, objective feedback. And just because I like blue and you like brown doesn’t mean I’m right. It means that the client is actually wanting more brown. I mean, so anyway, doing a lot of role play, a lot, a lot of role play because it’s experiential. And guess what gets people falling off their chair and laughing with one another at scenarios. And that’s the most fun part because you see them come alive and you’re like, oh my God, that was so silly. So we do that. We do a lot of training and I call it, I kind of call it like Saturday Night Live. I have people come up on stage and and do the role play for three, four minutes and then we all break it down.
Doug Smith: 20:44 I love that. That’s a great idea. I have one more question. What advice would you give to an executive listening to this on why they need a chief heart officer?
Claude Silver: 20:53 That we’ll go, go walk the floor or ask your people how they’re actually doing and see if they stay literally ask for people anonymously or do one on ones. What’s working, what’s not working and you’ll find nine out of 10 times, most people are looking for more mentorship, guidance, how to learn life skills and hard skills. How to advance, how to be seen and you need someone that’s going to be able to hold all of that. It’s not, it’s not a function. Well, by the way, HR needs to be rebranded in HR. I think are actual coaches, they’ve just been asked to be more regulators. However, in the case that you don’t have people that are ready to be coaches, you need a role like this that I can hold 800 people and not take your homework today.
Doug Smith: 21:40 Yeah, I love that. So that with the time we have last, I want to jump into the lightning round. Just a bunch of fun questions for you personally. Number one is what is one belief or behavior that’s changed your life?
Claude Silver: 21:51 One belief or behavior a long time ago when I look like I’ve learned, there are two emotions, love and fear, which one do you want to do yet? Huge, huge, huge.
Doug Smith: 22:04 Love it. If you could put a quote on a billboard for everyone to read, what would it say?
Claude Silver: 22:09 I’ve learned that people won’t forget what you said. People forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Mya Angelou?
Doug Smith: 22:18 Best purchase you’ve made in the last year for $100 or less?
Claude Silver: 22:22 Oh God. That’s good. Oh my gosh. She really stopped me there and I know I’ve made some great purchases. I’m going to have to get back to you on that at some could something to do with sports though.
Doug Smith: 22:36 Okay. The most popular answers airbuds are apple airpods even though they’re over a hundred dollars.
Claude Silver: 22:43 Mine were, I think my one 50 but yeah, it might’ve been a, it might’ve been spin shoes. It’ spin shoes.
Doug Smith: 22:53 Okay. There we go. Top two books you find yourself giving away most often?
Claude Silver: 22:58 You Are a Badass by Jen Sisnero and Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown.
Doug Smith: So good.
Doug Smith: 23:08 A top two podcasts you’d recommend?
Claude Silver: 23:11 Well, I mean, perhaps Gary’s, right? But no, I would really say, I’m super into Armchair Expert, Dax Shepard and Tara Brock who’s a Buddhist psychologist.
Doug Smith: Okay.
Doug Smith: 23:24 I will include those in the show notes to check them out. I love this question. What do you wish people knew about your journey that they may not know?
Claude Silver: 23:32 That I fell on my face 25,000 times and I got not 25,001.
Doug Smith: 23:41 So this is another one of my questions. Out of those 25,000 at times you fell on your face. Do you have a favorite one? That maybe you learned the most valuable lesson from?
Claude Silver: 23:51 Yeah. Not to judge a book by its cover. I mean, really just not to, not to judge a book. Don’t think what I’m seeing is, is, is everything at face value so deeper.
Doug Smith: What are you dreaming about right now? Hanging out with my nine-month-old.
Doug Smith: Oh, and it’s awesome.
Claude Silver: Yeah. I’m wakeboarding this weekend. Oh, nice. Okay.
Doug Smith: 24:13 Very cool. I’ve asked do you own the one year old? So it’s the best. Yeah. What’s your greatest challenge right now?
Claude Silver: 24:20 My greatest challenge is will always be scaling, you know, scaling, making sure that we’re reaching every single person.
Doug Smith: 24:31 When you get with leaders, is there a favorite question? If you had one question, ask a leader. When you meet with them, what would you ask them?
Claude Silver: 24:37 Well, we’ve already covered how can I bring you value, that’s for sure.
Doug Smith: What’s keeping you up at night?
Claude Silver: What’s keeping me up at night, that’s definitely one I ask.
Doug Smith: Hmm. That’s so good.
Claude Silver: What’s keeping you up at night? Yeah. What’s keeping me up at night is probably knowing that we’re going into review season again and, how much work that’s going to put on the team. And some of the swirl that we’re, we’ll encounter there.
Doug Smith: 25:05 This is probably a softball, but what’s the most valuable investment of your time and money right now?
Claude Silver: 25:11 The fact that I lived very close to home, I can leave and see my daughter before she goes to bed.
Doug Smith: 25:19 Do you have anything left on your bucket list? And if so, what? What are a few of those things?
Claude Silver: 25:23 Oh my gosh, I want to climb Kilimanjaro. Nice. Me Too. Yeah. Nice. That’s huge for me. I want to meet Renee Brown and Oprah and if I could meet the Dalai Lama, I would just die. And those are really, really huge and I’d love to do a Ted talk.
Doug Smith: Nice.
Doug Smith: 25:44 I’m sure you will. No doubt. Do you have any unusual habits that enable you to be successful?
Claude Silver: 25:51 A unusual habit set enabled me to be successful?
Doug Smith: Yeah.
Claude Silver: Yeah. You know, I use a whiteboard quite a bit to write things down. I’m really visual and that that helps. I think it really helps other people. So, but it’s not unusual. I just, I just have that, I drink a heck of a lot of water, a lot of water. I listen to the same song on repeat quite a bit, especially before I go on stage. I do jumping jacks before I go on stage.
Doug Smith: 26:24 Tony Little Tony Robbins, do you have a trampoline?
Claude Silver: 26:27 Well, I don’t know, but jumping jacks is more befitting attempt to my personality probably.
Doug Smith: 26:32 I love that. If you can go back and have coffee with your 20-year-old self, what would you tell her?
Claude Silver: 26:37 I mean, I wish I could curse right now. Dude, it, it gets better. Believe in yourself. Take up space. Like take up space. Be Big a big in the room.
Doug Smith: Say more about that.
Claude Silver: Don’t, don’t be caught by, I would tell her, listen, you may think you’re stupid. You’re not. We think you’re going to be the dumbest person in the room. You’re not. There is no dumb person in the room. You may think that because you’re dyslexic, you’re gonna be confused your entire life, you won’t be, things are not going to be as complicated as they seem right now.
Doug Smith: 27:20 I love that. And on the other end of life, looking back on your life, what’d you ultimately want to be remembered for and what do you want your legacy to be?
Claude Silver: 27:27 Well, that’s such a beautiful question. I want my legacy to be that she had a very, very generous heart. Well, if that’s on my tombstone, I will be extremely happy and that I inspired and helped people through service.
Doug Smith: 27:45 Anything else you want to leave leaders with today?
Claude Silver: 27:47 Yes, please, leaders, go out and ask your people questions. Don’t be afraid of what they say and be as transparent as you possibly can with your responses.
Doug Smith: 28:00 Well Claude, thank you so much for adding value to me and everyone that are listening to this. Thank you for the work that you do. You’re an inspiration and, I have no doubt that that will be your legacy.
Claude Silver: 28:08 I appreciate it. Thanks, Doug.
Doug Smith: 28:12 Thank you so much for listening to my interview with Claude Silver. I hope that you enjoyed it. You can find ways to connect with Claude and links to everything that we discussed in the show notes at L3leadership.org/episode228 as always, if you want to stay up to date with what we’re doing here at l three leadership, you can simply sign up for our email list at L3leadership.org and you actually get a free copy of my ebook Making the Most of Mentoring, which is my step by step process for how I build relationships with mentors. What questions I ask them. I think it’ll add a ton of value to your life, so make sure you get a copy of that. And I want to thank our two sponsors. First AlexTulandin. He is a realtor with Keller Williams Realty and if you’re looking to buy or sell a house in the Pittsburgh market, Alex is your guy.
Doug Smith: 28:53 He’s a member and a supporter of L3 Leadership and he’d love an opportunity to connect with you. You can learn more and connect with alex at Pittsburghpropertyshowcase.com. I just want to thank our other sponsor, Henne Jewelers. They are a jeweler, owned by my friend and mentor, John Henne, my wife Laura, and I got our engagement and wedding rings through Henne Jewelers. And we just think they’re an incredible organization. Not only do they have great jewelry, but they also invest in people. In fact, they give every engaged couple a book to help them prepare for marriage and we just love that. So if you’re in need of a good jeweler, check out Hennejewelers.com as always, thank you so much for being a listened to the podcast. We don’t take one of you for granted. If you haven’t already, please subscribe and share this on social media. Leave a rating and review.
Doug Smith: 29:33 It makes a difference. It helps us grow our audience. So thanks in advance for that. And as always, I like to end with a quote, and I’ve quoted this before the podcast, but I just love this quote, and I thought it was fitting, given Claude’s role, but Gerald Brooks said, “Leadership is losing the right to think about yourself.” “Leadership is losing the right to think about yourself.” How true that is. And you as a leader, you have to, especially if you’re going to lead an influence, 800 plus employees, forget about yourself. Thanks for listening and being a part of L3 Leadership. Laura, and I appreciate you so much, and we will talk to you next episode.