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How To Build the Best Human Empire With VaynerMedia’s Claude Silver

28 Jan 2022

The people behind the voices:

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

Claude Silver

Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia


The Employee Experience Podcast Ep. 1

The first guest on The Employee Experience Podcast is VaynerMedia’s Claude Silver.

Claude is the first-ever Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia where, alongside CEO Gary Vee, she ensures all Vayner employees have a place they can call home. 

In Gary Vee’s words, Claude’s responsibility is to “help build the best human empire in the history of time”. 

This conversation with Claude Silver is a fantastic listen for leaders interested in amplifying the positive aspects of their culture and enabling people to be their authentic selves at work.

About The Employee Experience Podcast

The Employee Experience Podcast, hosted by Gillian French, is a podcast series for leaders pursuing innovative ideas to engage and connect with their employees. We’ll speak to leaders about how to best connect with employees, build healthy cultures and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their potential.

Other guests on Season 1 of The Employee Experience Podcast include:

  • Leslie Caputo, People Scientist at Humu, on empowering people to improve themselves
  • Gary Keegan, CEO at Uppercut, on the secret to elevating performance (Part One)
  • Gary Keegan, CEO at Uppercut, on the secret to elevating performance (Part Two)
  • Niamh Gunn, CEO of the Dialogue Code, on creating a workplace for Humane Leadership
  • Dave Ulrich, the father of Modern HR on shaping how people and organizations deliver value
  • Scott McInnes, Founder of Inspiring Change, on engaging people to build a great culture
  • Stan Slap, Author and CEO on the secrets to building a world-class company culture
  • Ryan Jenkins, bestselling Author on how to decrease loneliness at work
  • Margaret Heffernan, bestselling Author and CEO on how to improve the Global Employee Experience
Full Transcript

Gillian French (00:02):
Hi, I’m Gillian French from Workvivo. You’re very welcome to The Employee Experience Podcast. We speak to leaders about how to best connect with employees, build healthy cultures, and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their potential. Claude Silver is the first ever Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia where, alongside CEO Gary Vee, they ensure all Vayner employees have a place they can call home. We are delighted to have Claude as our guest this week.

Gillian French (00:34):
Claude, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s an honor to have you on the podcast. I really, really appreciate it. I know how busy you are. I love your title. I think it’s wonderful, Chief Heart Officer. I’d love to know what do you do on a day-to-day basis? What does a Chief Heart Officer… What does their day consist of?

Claude Silver (00:57):
Yeah. Well, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited about this chat. So Chief Heart Officer, yes, every single day is pretty much the same yet it’s incredibly different because I am meeting and talking with and holding space and listening to a variety of people. My one and only job as Gary Vaynerchuk, our CEO, gave to me is to touch every single human being and infuse the agency with empathy. So we’re 1500 people now. Obviously, it’s very difficult to know everyone, so I have to be pretty strategic in terms of who I’m speaking to on a day-to-day basis if I’m doing any outbound, meaning am I reaching out to some of our people or am I just taking people that have asked to speak to me?

Claude Silver (01:52):
My job is really to work for and work with 1500 people, to take care of, to make sure they all feel as though they’re getting both the growth, the development, the time, the accountability, the autonomy, everything that we’ve shared with them in the upfront, in the interview process and whatnot, but that they’re really growing with us and, more importantly, that they all feel safe, that they all feel like this is the place that they want to come here, they want to spend some time. They want this to really be a career-defining moment for them.

Claude Silver (02:29):
So I need to really know what’s going on, not only just in the workplace, which is… That’s my job. But, also, as you and I both know, our day starts hours before we come on Zoom or go into the office, and those things that happen also affect us. We could be triggered in a meeting because someone spoke over us and maybe we were at home and our spouse spoke over us that morning or maybe we just were careless and there were a lot of spelling errors and we feel really insecure about our abilities because we just didn’t get a lot of sleep at night. There’s so many things that go into a person’s day, and I really want to know about those things. I want to really help people identify roadblocks and remove them, help them figure them out so that they can remove them, and connect people to one another. My business is really the business of people.

Gillian French (03:30):
And then how do you scale something like that? So it sounds absolutely amazing and I think it’s absolutely the way forward, but how do you scale yourself? Do you take a massive focus on your department, as in hiring people that would have a similar skill set to yourself, or do you ensure that the people managers you’re hiring are the key and that you really take time in hiring them? So what is your strategy when you’re trying to maintain this wonderful culture that you’ve created and the leadership team you’ve created?

Claude Silver (04:01):
Yeah. So I’ve been doing this role for six years. At first, it was literally to find other people that had a similar heart to help, a similar desire to really be of service and facilitate and be kind while doing that. So I was really able to hire a remarkable team. I did change the name of the department immediately from HR to People and Experience because, of course, that’s what we’re doing all day long. So I have that, and they scale me in miraculous ways all over the globe.

Claude Silver (04:43):
Then I really focused on people that had been at the organization that are just like me, that have very similar, as Gary would call it, DNA. We all have a belief in people. We all are realistic optimists if you will. We all really do our best to provide awesome energy. I call those people culture champions. They have day jobs, but I know I can lean on them any point in the day. If Sally is having a hard time and I can’t get to Sally, I’ll send someone over there or… You know what I mean?

Claude Silver (05:24):
I would say in the last two and a half years, we have spent an enormous amount of time hiring incredible senior leaders. So I consider senior leaders adults, people that are accountable, people that really understand leading is not about ego and leading is not about making myself look good and being right. Leading is about finding right together, creating something better and bigger in the world, and helping people develop their own champions, becoming champions. So I would say it’s a three-pronged approach and it’s certainly never-ending.

Gillian French (06:10):
Yeah. I loved what you just touched on there about the ego. I actually wrote this down because I read it on your site and I thought it was really, really… It just resonated with me. There’s two emotions, love versus fear, and you’ve previously highlighted that fear and love, they are the two emotions. Fear, it shows itself in ego, control, and micromanaging, and love is open. People feel seen and valued. How do you shift an organization or leaders that maybe aren’t predispositioned in that manner to shift and show them that this is a way and to talk about love in work environment? That’s a big shift.

Claude Silver (06:55):
It is a big shift. We come at the love part through words such as empathy, compassion, kindness because those are human traits, and, of course, love is part of that, but I also want to be careful that I’m not putting someone off. I certainly want to make sure. It has to come from the top, and we have a remarkable CEO who’s very, and a founder, CEO, Gary Vaynerchuk, who’s extremely outspoken about his belief in people, about serving others, if you will, about kindness, gratitude. These are the winning formulas in life.

Claude Silver (07:38):
So that comes from him, and I’m right there next to him. You’re not coming to this place of work if you don’t have any kind of DNA to be the bigger person or to want to learn how to be the bigger person and become self-aware. You would go to other places. You really would. Because we’ve put such an emphasis on people here and on growth and creating safety, if it wasn’t who you are or you didn’t want to step into the water there, you wouldn’t come here.

Gillian French (08:18):
You wouldn’t enjoy it.

Claude Silver (08:20):
Yeah, you wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be worth your time. But we really believe in what I call emotional bravery and creating these spaces where anyone and everyone feels as though they can use their voice, they can share an idea, they can raise their hand to be involved in a pitch, those types of things. So Gary said it. There’s me, and then we’ve done remarkable amounts of hiring over these years to find, as I was mentioning, those senior leaders, those people managers that believe in working together. This is not a solo game. We’re all in it.

Gillian French (09:00):
Yeah. And tell me, for anyone that’s listening and they might be on a leadership team and maybe their CEO or their leadership team may not think in the same way, people-first approach, empathy, compassion, what have your learnings throughout your career been? What have been your challenges, and what’s the advice? Can you make the change? Say you’re a CPO and the rest of the leadership team are not that way inclined. Can you make the difference, or are you flogging a dead horse, so to speak? What are your thoughts?

Claude Silver (09:32):
Yeah. Well, I’ve certainly worked at places that haven’t had the same ethos. I mean, that’s for sure. But I never changed who I was because of it. So even when I was indifferent roles and at different companies, I still was me. My zebra stripes don’t change, and I really believe that. If this is the way you are and you have a heart to help, as I like to call it, and you want to create places where people come to feel seen and recognized and valued, then that will always be.

Claude Silver (10:09):
So that’s the first thing I would say to those people. Keep being you. Keep being you. Until you’re able to find that other place or you start your own company where the tide turns and you’re at that place where you really, really… It’s the religion. Putting people first and doing right by them becomes the religion. I do think we’re on a massive trajectory right now, a paradigm shift, where work is changing, due to the pandemic, due to the fact that we’re at home or remote or we’re hybrid working and that mental health and emotional health has become the forefront of conversations. So the tide is shifting, which is great. It’s just not going to shift all at once today.

Gillian French (10:59):
No. Do you think it’ll shift in our lifetime or…

Claude Silver (11:04):
I definitely think it will shift, for sure, in our children’s lifetime. I don’t think they will go to work with armor on. I don’t know what go to work even means anymore. But I do think you and I will be here to see the effects and to, I believe, feel the consistent shift that will happen in the workplace, where people do feel they can bring their authentic self to work and they can speak up without fear of retaliation or all of that other junk. I think a lot of that is going to depend on companies’ abilities to, obviously, pivot very quickly but also realize where they have not been inclusive, realize where they have had their own unconscious bias, realize where they need to increase their diversity numbers, and wake up to that and actually do something about it.

Gillian French (12:13):
But when you talked about the love versus fear, I mean, the fear does generate results. The control can generate results, hence why sometimes that behavior is repeated. How do we or how do you get the message across that there is a different way and that it actually produces maybe even better results?

Claude Silver (12:37):
One of the things I say to people, especially up-and-coming leaders, I would say… You know on Sunday when you get those Sunday scaries? We’ve all gotten them. “Oh, God, I don’t want to go to work on Monday,” and you get into a funk. That’s a sign right there that something is not working, that something is not okay. When our chemistry and our physiology start to change and we have anxiety because we’re going to go to work, right then and there, we need to wake up to that. That anxiety actually produces more cortisol, which lowers our ability to be high performers, and so it’s a double whammy. That’s, I think, the real thing.

Claude Silver (13:32):
So what I want to say is we all have our own brain. We all know what’s right for ourselves. We all also do need to pay the bills. But it does not need to be a sacrifice of who you are or a sacrifice of your own mental, emotional health because it’s all we got. You don’t really get to put in a different microchip and all of a sudden not have anxiety. You have to work with it. So I believe that, yes, of course, fear can create results, right? When people are scared and people are feeling pressured, they will get it done, but it will tax them. When people feel micromanaged and that they’re being stifled or someone else is taking their ideas or not giving them freedom to speak, they will feel less than. Their imposter syndrome or limiting beliefs will come up. I guarantee you, they will start to not feel good about themselves.

Claude Silver (14:39):
So what I would say to those people out there that say, “Well, no, I mean, my culture of fear is working,” but at what cost, at what price? At what price does it work, when you have more absenteeism, when you have people that need to be on medical leave, when you have people just leaving the company, going elsewhere? We’re too smart not to look at those things holistically from the leadership level down, but, also, we’re too smart to try to fool ourselves that it’s okay that I feel anxious at work every day or it’s okay that I cry when I go home. No, it’s not. It’s just not. It’s not.

Gillian French (15:24):
No. I just noticed on your profile that you have a background like you studied psychology. Do you think that’s really helped you within your role, and do you think that maybe into the future there’s a role within organizations for organizational psychologists or it being a component of our training for people that are HR leaders?

Claude Silver (15:45):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. For me, I think my interest in people certainly has helped me throughout my life, and my interest in human behavior started with my interest in my own human behavior and my own journey of self-awareness and why I was doing certain things that would be sabotaging or not productive for myself. So I really leaned in to learn about myself, and, by the way, we’re not all that too different from one another, so that’s the first thing.

Claude Silver (16:16):
As someone that worked in advertising for a long time, understanding human behavior and decision-making processes and the needs really only helped me. I do think that you will see organizational psychologists in the workplace. I do think you will see more HR professionals get coaching degrees or certifications. I do think that we will see, whether or not it’s a resurgence, a return, or a brand new day where HR professionals are doing what it is they really truly got into the world to do, which most of the time is to help, is to coach, is to really provide a bridge and connection from point A to point B to point C. So my hope is that we’ll move into that sooner than later. I really think that’s going to happen sooner than later.

Gillian French (17:16):
Yeah, because I feel that’s really struck a note with myself personally because I’ve been a CPO since I was 29, and the reason I went into it is because I love working with people, love seeing people get on, and I studied and did it until I was 45. But I found over the years that my role… The higher I got and the more at a C level, the less I was interacting with people and helping people and was more about data and producing data and doing things that actually I didn’t think my skill set was aligned to either. I was much more about working with people, being around them. I do see that, that sometimes we’re looking for HR analytics and data-driven people to be in that can produce data out of surveys, whereas actually understanding people and being around people would be much more powerful. I don’t know if you’ve come across that yourself or if you’ve had that feedback from other people or…

Claude Silver (18:14):
We are a very different type of organization, where you have a Chief Heart Officer that’s only role is to be there with people, and that I have a team of HR business strategists that only role is to be there for the people and figure out how to help them grow and develop. When we lose touch with the people and concentrate too much on our P&L or the data, I believe that we take our eye off of the prize, and the prize is the people. I don’t think we will win, quote-unquote, if that’s important to a company. I think that if we’re not high touch, and I’m high touch, we’re a high touch organization, then you’re missing out on your greatest asset, which is the people and who they actually are rather than you see them as robots or just people that clock in and clock out. That’s just not who we are.

Claude Silver (19:22):
I mean, I’m Gen X, and at work, no one ever asked me how I was doing, and I don’t think I ever would’ve felt safe in my 20s and early 30s telling anyone how I was doing because that just wasn’t the atmosphere. But imagine if we can provide that now to all of those younger Millennials and Gen Zeds. It
will be a very different place, it really, really will, where I think that we will see more innovation, more creativity, more inspiration, more teamwork, more friendships, less loneliness, less isolation, less anxiety, and, of course, it’s a journey.

Gillian French (20:05):
Yeah. No, I think that’s very powerful because that’s definitely how I would view an organization should be. I do think that, a little bit, we’ve gone too far in the realm of bottom five percent, talking about people in numbers, whereas it’s Tony or Tommy or… There’s people at the end of that. For me, I found that difficult, when people tried to refer to people in percentages because there were actually humans at the end of that, and I think that if you do focus too much on the data, you lose sight of that. You lose sight of, yeah, that’s Tony and actually, yeah, he’s just separated from his wife and he’s on his own now with the two kids. But sometimes boards don’t want to know about that, or sometimes it’s easier to just say bottom five percent or bottom two percent or…

Claude Silver (20:55):
Of course, of course, but there’s context around each and every person. There is a story, just like there’s a story that you have and a story that I have. I just feel like we spend so much time and put so much energy into our work that we should also be acknowledged as humans. I really do. We, society, we are afraid to have conversations about fearful topics about things that might be scary or might be, oh, gosh, a little illuminating. What’s the monster in the closet, say, over there? Where’s the skeletons in the closet? But the minute we can have these uncomfortable conversations, whatever those may be in your workplace, we can start to understand and care for the human experience rather than these cogs in the wheel, these resources, human capital. I don’t even know what human capital is. Capital.

Gillian French (22:08):
I think the other word, professional, drives me mad because people always say, “Oh, that’s not professional.” Well, it allows not to talk about what’s actually happening because that’s just too unprofessional.

Claude Silver (22:22):
Well, and, by the way, who came up with the rules? I’ve never seen a rule book. Yes, I’ve seen a handbook that says, of course, what’s permissible, what’s not. Of course, every organization… But who came up with the rules that asking someone how they’re doing, if they’re okay, because you saw them crying is unprofessional or talking about the fact that you have high anxiety right now due to the fact that it’s a pandemic… Who came up with those roles? I don’t know.

Gillian French (22:53):
And I think the other challenge is that people who may be like yourself, more heart-based and want to focus on people, the compassionate side of things within the workplace is very difficult to measure. So how do you measure sitting with somebody that’s maybe just had a death in the family or lost a baby or… You’re being with them and you’re there with them, and that takes time to fully commit to them and be with them. They’re the memories that employees remember. They’re the things that employees remember.

Gillian French (23:31):
We’ve just done a survey recently where people are saying they’re not valued or that the organization has let them down at these imprintable moments, they call them. So, again, do you think this is where the great resignation is coming from? Do you think that this is where people are sitting back, reflecting, and that these are the important things to them and they haven’t been recognized and they’re now taking stock, or do you think there’s something different at play? Sorry, that was a bit of a roundabout question.

Claude Silver (24:02):
Yeah, yeah. No, no, no. Well, I think there’s a variety of things, and they’re all coming together into a soup. There’s the people that are just sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. There are the people that know work can look like and feel like something different, that you don’t need to go into an office five days a week 365 days a year, and those people want remote work or hybrid work. There are people that are going to tech companies or startups that offer enormous amounts of pay rises as well as stock options, and there’s people that also fundamentally can find places of work where their life is also acknowledged, where their mental health can be acknowledged.

Claude Silver (24:59):
I want to be really honest. We go to work. It’s not therapy. We go to work, and we do need to produce results and produce processes and produce game plans and whatever it is. I mean, we get paid to work. So I don’t want to create any type of coddling or entitlement here at all. All I really want for people is to feel like they matter, that they actually matter. That’s really it. There’s a lot in that word, matter, feeling safe, feeling included, feeling seen, all of that stuff. But we go and we play on our football teams, and we go out to brunch with our girl or our boys, whatever, and we sit at the dinner table with our family, and we go here and we go there, and we do treat people well in those places. So why when we go into what we call work do we forget that, and why do we accept something different? That’s the biggest question I have.

Gillian French (26:14):
It’s so funny. I do coaching as well. I’ve said this before on one of my podcasts, that people say to me when I ask them a question, “Are you talking about my work me or my at-home me?” I’m like, “Oh my God, how difficult is that, to be running two people?” But, in a way, they definitely see themselves as going into work, be it a mask or half of a person, but they see themselves as their home person is different to their work persona.

Claude Silver (26:42):
And you and I both know how much energy that takes.

Gillian French (26:45):
Oh my God. Yeah. That’s exhausting.

Claude Silver (26:48):
Right. It’s as though… You know when you go on holiday and you really finally feel like you’re on holiday, you’re not checking your email and you’re not checking your phone, and you realize you’ve just taken 20 kilos off your shoulders? That’s what it’s like.

Gillian French (27:05):
Totally. Totally. But I do think as well that it comes back to what you were talking about there as well, that when you are in a work environment that’s compassionate and full of empathy, you feel you can be your true self. So I’m sure when you’re in an environment like that, you don’t think of yourself as two separate people. You’re walking up and you’re yourself. At the end of the day, that’s the best a person be because they’re not wasting energy trying to be something they’re not or doing things that they’re not good at.

Gillian French (27:32):
I was actually talking to a leader recently, and he said to me, “This is so-and-sos… That’s not their strength. We’ll get them doing something else, and we’ll get Tony doing this, but that’s not their strength.” I thought that was lovely because they recognize that they have real strengths in some areas, whereas you can see in some organizations pushing people to do things that they know are not their core strength and just trying to make them something they’re not, and then they’re constantly doing things that they’re not exceeding at.

Claude Silver (28:02):
I know so well what that’s like. I really do, just my own experience and also working in a company where we really do believe that we should set people up to succeed and put them in places of their own strength because, yay, it feeds them and it only feeds us. We’re going to benefit from someone being in their true strength. I mean, we look at this role for me. I was running very, very, very large accounts. I was a head strategist for many years, definitely strength, I loved that. But this is really where I can shine, and it doesn’t feel like a job. It doesn’t. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “Oh my gosh, another 15 people I’m going to listen to today.” I feel like, “What am I going to learn today? Can’t wait.”

Gillian French (28:55):
Yeah. There are some people that would wake up and say, “God, I have 15 people to listen to,” but you do and I’ve had that… Many times people say to me, “God, I couldn’t do your job,” but I love that part of my job. That’s not hard work to me. Then, obviously, looking at an Excel spreadsheet for 10 hours would not be my forte, but that’s someone else’s, and they’re really good at that, and they love that. So, yeah, it’s really about getting people doing what they’re really good at and creating that environment where they can do that. That’s amazing.

Claude Silver (29:27):
I agree. I agree. Yeah.

Gillian French (29:30):
So you did talk about and I know you have, I think… People often remember how you make them feel, and I think that’s up in your office. I read somewhere… I sound like your stalker there, “I know it’s in your office.” But how do you do the hard stuff? Within organizations, there’s got to be non-performance or maybe people aren’t suited to jobs. How do you do the hard stuff in such, I suppose, a warm, empathetic environment? How do you do the hard stuff?

Claude Silver (29:57):
Well, we call it kind candor in our workplace, remembering that how you make someone feel is really all that matters and we want to have these challenging conversations but still leave someone feeling like they’re a valid and valued person. You go into conversations such as… I had this last week with a senior employee who had been saying just slightly inappropriate things in the workplace, not anything HR terrible, but just inappropriate things. He’d been making some of the people feel a little bit uncomfortable. What I said to him in the conversation was, “You are a ray of sunshine, and everyone really likes to be around you. You always bring the light. You’re a joker, one of those great people that people want to be around, and that being said, sometimes because you are so casual you have let yourself slip into asking questions that are just inappropriate and have made people feel uncomfortable.”

Claude Silver (31:15):
Was he mortified? He was shocked. He just said, “Oh, that’s the last thing I ever would intend, ever, ever, ever.” I just had to remind him of really what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate in the workplace. The way I went into that, though, was kindness. It wasn’t full of fluff. It was literally, “I love being around you. You’re a great person. You always light up the screen when I’m with you, and because of that, because you’re such a light person, you do talk very casually, and we have to watch that. As a leader, people are looking to you all day long. ‘What is he doing? What is he doing? What is he doing?'” So we had a great conversation like that. I mean, we left the conversation in a very positive way, and I don’t think I’ll have to have that conversation with him again.

Claude Silver (32:04):
Letting someone go, that’s also a hard conversation to have for anyone, right, and how you let someone go is just as important as how you hire them. We want to make sure that we’re setting this person up on the outside. So whether or not that is, “Listen, go through LinkedIn or go through the job postings, and if you find five different roles that you’re interested in or a company you want to work at, we will definitely see who we can network you with. We cannot promise you an interview, but we will connect you.” We say that to every single person that leaves this company. That’s a lot.

Gillian French (32:42):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. No, it really is. No. You’re dead right. It’s as important as onboarding to really look after people. That’s amazing. So for any of our listeners, employee experience and your department is… You’ve rebranded it. People and Experience? Is that it, right?

Claude Silver (32:58):
Yeah. People and Experience.

Gillian French (32:59):
So have you any sort of practical tips? Because everybody’s really looking at the moment, what can they do, how can they improve their employee experience after the last two years? Obviously, we’re in a more remote setting now. What sort of things do you believe are fundamental to the employee experience and that people should really focus on and get right?

Claude Silver (33:21):
First and foremost, before I even go into the tactics, I think that one needs to be available and accessible for their people. I don’t think this is a one size fits all, and I also don’t think, to use another catchphrase, it’s one and done. You can’t just show up today and not show up tomorrow and not show up the next day and the next day. You can’t just check in with your people today and not see them again for 365 days. That’s not going to work. So that’s the first thing. You have to create the space where you know you can also or someone on your team can also be present. Otherwise, it’s cheap and cheerful, and it is not going to pan out to anything these days. People are too smart. They’re just too smart for that kind of funny business that I’m sure we’ve all done before. So that’s the first thing, be present, be open to listening and ready, right, Ready to take action where you can.

Claude Silver (34:26):
One of the things that I think is extremely important right now in terms of emotional and mental health is how are we providing support? So we have recently started with a company called Journey, which has a mobile and desktop app. It is content on-demand, similar to Netflix, where you can also get live interactive meditations. Right now, I could sign up for sleep meditations, communication, skills training, if you will, support groups, and literally it’s… They call themselves Netflix on demand. So we’ve given that to 1500 people. It doesn’t matter to me what they’re signing up to, as long as they’re using it. I want to know how many people are actually using it a week because that’s really important. So that’s really cool. The other thing is burnout is real and we’ve all been glued to our computers for 20-odd months now. Our eyes are tired, we don’t know how to empower ourselves to turn off the laptop, all of those things. One of the things that we did in the end of August is we gave every single employee five days off, just five days off, and we closed the company.

Gillian French (35:41):
Amazing. Five days.

Claude Silver (35:43):
Really amazing. Yeah. Five days off. And then it led into a long weekend, so you basically had eight days-

Gillian French (35:50):
A week. Yeah.

Claude Silver (35:51):
Yeah. You had a week. We’ve also said to people, “If you feel like you cannot be on screen, just let us know, go off-camera.” This is where I’m spending a lot of time with people that are struggling with depression or anxiety and just listening to them and asking questions just like any caring person would ask and making sure that people don’t feel alone. So we have employee resource groups within the company for allies to join and, obviously, of those communities, so there’s support systems within there, too. Then we have frequent all-hands, frequent, frequent all-hands. I like that because that means people are hearing from the top what’s going on. They don’t have to guess.

Gillian French (36:40):
Brilliant. And how were your customers about the five days off? Were they okay with that, or did they understand? Yeah?

Claude Silver (36:47):
Yeah. We gave them about, I think, five or six weeks’ heads-up. There were two different teams that told me that they would be working during those days, and I really pressed them hard to find out what they were actually going to be doing those days. Was it work that really needed to be done, or could this have been done the following week? But I would say 99% of people took off.

Gillian French (37:19):
Amazing. That’s very generous. Five days, wow. This will be my final question, then a few quick round ones for you, but can empathy be thought? So if we look at leadership and how it’s evolved over time, one could assume that things like delivery of results, fast pace, quick decision-making has been hailed and getting results and achieving results, whereas now there is a movement towards compassionate leadership, empathetic, conscious leadership. Do you think those things can be thought, or is it a rethink around leadership? Is there development required, or is it in people and they need to see that that’s what’s going to be valued, or what? How do you think we can unlock this or change it?

Claude Silver (38:16):
Yeah, I think it’s a hodgepodge. I feel like-

Gillian French (38:19):
Like my question.

Claude Silver (38:21):
Yeah. When we ask, “Can empathy be taught,” what I like to share with people is that empathy is the emotion and the output of empathy, the action, is compassion and kindness. I actually think that everyone knows how to be compassionate and/or kind. So that’s one way to rethink about empathy in a way. Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean, “I feel your pain.” That’s not what it is. That’s not at all. We don’t want people to become sponges and then they can’t move. We want people to understand and validate someone’s experience and perhaps ask how I can be a support.

Claude Silver (39:04):
I imagine that’s really difficult to go through, validate, validate, validate. That’s not very difficult to learn. If you need to learn certain words or phrases, “I agree with you,” or, “You are right, I did show up in that way,” or, “I get it, I hear you,” those types of things. So that’s the first thing I’ll say. Then, of course, you can do workshops around becoming more empathetic, more kind. It all leads back to emotional intelligence and self-awareness. It’s very difficult to come into a situation truly if you don’t really know yourself. You can fake it a bit, but figuring out who you are and how you function is a lifelong journey, and I think that’s the first step in becoming empathetic, is really understanding you and becoming kind and compassionate to yourself.

Gillian French (40:06):
That’s actually about the third time I’ve heard that over the past three weeks, which I think is really interesting because I’m wondering if we’ve been so busy over the past decade or two that a lot of us don’t actually understand our true selves. Therefore, within leadership, it’s about understanding your true self first before you can then lead for everyone else and help them find their purpose and their meaning and their true self. Think there’s definitely something in that.

Claude Silver (40:35):
Definitely. I agree. And it’s a long journey, so you don’t need to wait until you got it perfectly because that’s going to be on your last breath. Keep trying. Give it a shot. I don’t hit a home run every single day. I’m just a human. I have great days, I have good days, and I have days that I should definitely have stayed in bed for another hour.

Gillian French (41:04):
Yeah. I can definitely relate to that, for sure. So I’m going to ask you just a couple of questions now because we’re coming to the end of our time. I’d love to know what’s your favorite book and why?

Claude Silver (41:14):
I have a few. Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind is a book I read 10 years ago, 12 years ago, and it was the first time I felt like I was reading a, quote-unquote, business book that talked about creativity and right brain, left-brain thinking, and how we need both in the workplace. It was really the first time I felt seen as much more of a creative and empath thinker. That book really made a big difference on me. He’s incredible. Anything he writes is, I think, really incredible, very spot-on.

Claude Silver (41:53):
There’s another book called Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. It’s actually a restaurant book. It’s a hospitality book. But what I love about it, for any of your listeners out there like myself that waited tables or bar-tended, you learn so much in customer service and really being there for the table that you’re serving or the person you’re serving at the bar. I mean, they say the customer’s always right. That’s someplace you really learn it. This really takes into account leadership and principles of hospitality and using those, which I think HR could do more of. So that’s another one of those books. Gary has a brand new book coming out called 12 and a Half. I think it was released last week. It’s 12 and a half, 13 leadership principles through the eyes of emotional intelligence that is really excellent.

Gillian French (42:55):
Yeah. I’ve seen a lot of his stuff lately, and he’s definitely talking about the critical skills, which I consider a rebrand of… Instead of soft skills, you have the critical business skills. Yeah. That’s great. I’m laughing as well when you were talking about waiting tables because I started my career in hotels, and anyone who knows me or worked with me over the years, I’m always saying that it’s a great way to start your career and you get great learning from customers’ perspective and quick thinking and solving problems. So I always point to my hotel background. Finally then, who would be your leadership role model, like who do you think really embodies the type of leadership that we require or who was a role model for you?

Claude Silver (43:37):
Well, I have a few, so I’ll build. My nana and my parents, for sure, very generous people. Their spirits are very generous, really going the extra mile for people. Making people feel the better than they did is enormous. I would definitely say the Dalai Lama, for sure, and I would have to put Oprah in there and her ability to create safe spaces for people to show up, the Obamas. I have a lot of people I would throw in there, for sure. Gary is amazing. Really, I feel as though it’s people that come to the table with love and are not afraid to show that.

Gillian French (44:27):
Amazing. And, actually, I have one final question if you do have the time. What’s your biggest prediction for the workplace for the future of work? What’s your biggest prediction?

Claude Silver (44:38):
Well, I think we’ll see this great resignation for a while. However, I do think, in 2023, we’re going to see this great return where workplaces will have evolved enough to really know how to hold a human being, not perfectly, but people will have the great return. I think people will come back in droves if we’re allowed and if we are able to provide them what it is we always promise, which is the respect, the growth, the opportunities, the feedback, and the critical thinking skills, the critical skills, as Gary calls them, the hard and the soft skills. So my prediction is 2023, I think, will be the great return, and in the meantime, I think we’re all figuring out how to sustain where we are and get better and get better.

Gillian French (45:39):
Brilliant. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time today, and I really enjoyed speaking to you, so thank you so much, Claude.

Claude Silver (45:43):
Likewise. Thank you.

Gillian French (45:49):
Thank you so much for listening to The Employee Experience Podcast. Subscribe on Acast or wherever you get your podcasts, and check out to find out more.

The people behind the voices

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

Employee Experience Officer

Gillian French is a veteran people leader and organizational behaviorist with over 10 years of experience as Chief People Strategist.

She is passionate about coaching, strategy, building resilient and sustainable organisational culture, and improving global employee experience. She has also contributed to Forbes and is a regular panelist on the future of work.

Gillian is also the founder and CEO of SISU consulting, a business that specializes in organisation development and design.

Claude Silver

Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia

Claude describes herself as an emotional optimist, coach, manager, and mentor. She is the first-ever Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia.

Working for 1200 Humans, she is in touch with the heartbeat of every single person in the company. Her purpose is to infuse the agency with empathy.