Throughout a crisis, many companies switch into a survival mode. Fear, uncertainty, and economic troubles can easily crush the spirit of organizations with an otherwise enviable culture. Still, even in such situations, having a genuine interest in your employees and making an effort to boost their well-being is not just “nice to have.” Or perhaps, it’s even more critical than before to care.
If there’s anyone in the world who walks this talk, it’s Claude Silver: Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia, the first person ever with this title. We’ve talked to her about “the matters of the heart” in the workplace, cultural values, and the fascinating journey to her current position.
Mental health during the crisis
The Covid-19 outbreak has changed the workplace from one day to another, and perhaps it also proved we’re much more flexible than we think. A report from Cushman & Wakefield suggests that change is here to stay. The new normal will include fewer people in the office to maintain social distancing and workplaces that “will no longer be a single location but an ecosystem of a variety of locations and experiences to support convenience, functionality, and well-being”.
‘Work from home’ is here to stay, and while that’s good news to some extent, the report also claims that human connection and social bonding are suffering, and by extension, so does corporate culture and learning. A survey by Kincentric paints a dire picture of mental well-being that later stages of the Covid-19 crisis brought. Workload related stress and burnout risk are rising with “prolonged stress, volatility, anxiety and uncertainty”. Clearly, supporting your employees and taking extra steps to boost their happiness is of vital importance. How does Claude Silver make sure that people at VaynerMedia thrive?
Nurturing the hearts
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Claude has this quote hanging in two different places in her office because she finds it incredibly valuable. “It’s the last line that is the most important. How you make people feel. This is the crux of being a Chief Heart Officer. This is the end all and be all. Anything and everything I do in life must equate to the last line of this incredible poem,” she explains.
With this quote in mind, what does she do every day? Her role means she serves all the human beings in the company while carrying the torch of the cultural values and guiding principles throughout the organization. In VaynerMedia, this culture is rooted in the sense of belonging. That means the employees should connect with one another on a human level, as well as for inspiration and creativity. “Belonging, absolutely, unlocks the power of vulnerability and courage. And with those two things unlocked, anything is possible!” Claude stresses.
So how exactly does one’s job become to care about the hearts of people? For Claude, it was not straightforward, and her career path has taken some zigs and zags. She’s done everything from waiting tables to owning a surfing company and working as a strategist and advertising agencies for many years. Whatever her role was, it was always fueled by her interest in human beings, curiosity about them, and the drive to help them become the very best.
“One thing that I was the most loyal to was developing the people around me, mentoring them and creating really awesome strong, sustainable teams that were rooted in kindness, collaboration, and curiosity,” Claude explains. “Quite frankly, I love people, I believe in people, I am an emotional optimist. I know what my impact is. I want to hold space, I want to be a joyful service, and I want to watch people grow,” she adds.
All in all, this is precisely what such a people-focused role requires: you need to want to be an inspiration and enjoy being part of someone’s journey. “Do what you love, what lights you up, what motivates you to get out of bed every morning. Do what your heart is really called to do,” Claude recommends.
Being the authentic “You” in the workplace
Claude believes her mission is to allow people to “bring their whole selves” to work. She sits down with them regularly and acknowledges that it can’t be all rainbows and sunshine every day. She keeps in mind that they may be going through something sad or stressful while discussing their performance, purpose, and achievements. “My wish is not for people to ‘compartmentalize’ their lives and leave their personal lives at home when they show up for work. My wish is for people to be real here, and for me to be real here. That means I need to bring my whole self to work. I need to show up as I am when I’m not at work,” Claude explains.
How can you make sure you unlock self-awareness in your teams? Claude recommends taking them through a “map” of themselves, starting with a question like, “how does the team see you? What is the value you bring to the team?” Then they discuss what they think their value is, and she gives them feedback. “When they say to me, for example, “I’m strategic” — I’ll ask them, ‘what does ‘strategic’ mean?’ If they say, ‘I’m a problem solver’, I’ll follow up with what I think being a problem solver at VaynerMedia means,” Claude describes. The effort is worth it: by understanding what the people want, helping them uncover who they are, and their strengths, VaynerMedia maintains a great culture.
Motivating the motivator
Working with people all day, every day, listening to their stories and trying to help them can be draining. However, Claude doesn’t feel her mission as a burden. Why? She says it’s simple: it’s the fact that we all have hope – a feeling of potential, a promise that something is bubbling somewhere inside. “If you look and listen closely, you will catch this vibe off of the people around you: ‘I’m going to be amazing! I’m going to do something great! I’m going to move a mountain or two or three. I am going to inspire people. I am going to give generously of my heart.’ Everyone has a promise of who they can be inside of them,” she concludes.