Claude Silver has been VaynerMedia’s Chief Heart Officer for just under a year. CHO is a powerful new title to describe a C-Suite role responsible for the culture and wellbeing of a company’s people — the heartbeat of the business, so to speak.
And when a human based, HR-first company has more than 700 employees, gauging and nurturing that heartbeat — making sure every single person feels connected and cared-for — is no easy job.
Curious to learn more about her role, and the role of a CHO in general, we reached out to Silver, who was as heartfelt and sincere as her title would make you hope. We spent a good hour chatting about what culture means to her, how she created her dream role, and the rewards of empowering and unlocking people. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.
Q&A with Claude Silver
What does culture mean to you?
Culture is a texture. It’s a vibe. A feel. And culture is alive. It’s definitely not one or two-dimensional—I think culture is very three-dimensional. Culture is, in a nutshell, the heartbeat for me. It is something that absolutely lights up an entire system — if it is in place, and if it is thriving.
Culture is one of the reasons why I’m here at VaynerMedia. We’re a people based organization; In fact I rebranded our department name from HR to the People & Experience Team, it’s what I’m about, it’s what our CEO Gary Vaynerchuk is about.
What was the Chief Heart Officer role created in response to?
I would absolutely say two things. First and foremost, this is a company that was cofounded and run by Gary Vaynerchuk, an amazing person who wants to enable people to grow and be their best selves. He pushes people into action, which as a result creates amazing business success.
We are all hired to scale Gary because he, being an incredibly gifted salesperson, an incredibly gifted intuitive person, and entrepreneur is in constant high demand. Whether it’s meeting with the Head of Toyota, or Pepsi, or giving a keynote speech, or releasing his newest book, his time is incredibly valuable, and he no longer single-handedly can touch all of our 700+ employees.
So the CHO role was created to scale Gary, and in order to scale Gary, he needed to find someone who spoke the same language, who had the same beliefs in people, and who could cut through the BS. He needed an empathetic truth-teller; — and it happened to me.
We have an incredible connection, which is phenomenal. I think we both inspire each other, see each other for who we are, and trust each other implicitly.
Enjoy articles like this one?
Subscribe to Hazel Blog and get hand-crafted, deeply researched essays and interviews delivered every few weeks.Subscribe to Hazel Blog →
You worked at VaynerMedia in another role before. How did you make the transition?
I started at the company almost three years ago. When I was at VaynerMedia for my first tour of duty, it was very apparent that what happened to me is something that had happened in the last three roles I was in, which is that I woke up and realized I had two jobs: one was running very large global accounts and large strategies, and the other job was the mentorship, the finger-on-the-pulse, the heartbeat, the coaching. I was getting paid for one of the jobs, but I actually loved the one I wasn’t getting paid for, which, well, I didn’t really know what to call it—coach, fairy godmother, mentor?
So Gary and I chatted and he asked me what I cared about most. And I said, “I only want to focus on the people. I only care about the heartbeat.”
And then I left. I resigned. Then in early Winter, Gary and I met up and the rest is history!
What did your vision for the CHO role look like?
Gary knew I was very serious about VaynerMedia’s employees, and he knew I wanted to create an emotionally and physically safe space for people to bring their whole selves to work. I mean, what a concept, right? He knew I was interested in creating experiences for people so they could very much be a part of this element of the culture.
He knew I believed in coming at everything with love—love first, generosity first, open heart first, and a belief that every person has the possibility to move mountains. He knew I wanted to spend my time facilitating growth and change in people and teams, and unlocking them. Employees who are fulfilled and appreciated create amazing work culture, which leads to overall business success.
There are 700+ people here, and 74% are Millennials. I lead the People & Experience team whose responsibility is being of service to all of them; mentoring and developing them, helping them connect the dots, training them…. There’s a lot of love, and a lot of tough love, to give.
I constantly ask myself, how do I hold space for people? How do I make it not about my agenda? I’m 47 years old. I’ve had an enormously fortunate career. And now this is about my life’s work. It’s bringing together every single personal and professional growth workshop I have attended, every corporate team-building session I have led, every trust fall I have caught. I don’t necessarily have all the answers; I’m helping our employees find their answers.
A total coach approach.
Yes, a total coach approach. I grew up playing a lot of sports and being both captain and player. I have a massive belief in teamwork and collaboration, and both of those things really feed into our culture because it’s not about the I and me, it’s about we. We are all here working for VaynerMedia. And this is an incredible team to be on!
The CHO was created to scale Gary, and to make sure that VaynerMedia’s 700+ employees—and one day it will be 1,000+—have a place they can find a home. They can talk to me 1:1, and I can speak to them in my language. My hope is that in our 15-30 minute meetings, they will feel a lot clearer and that they leave with a newfound path to a solution. Which in turn creates success for them and VaynerMedia.
If you take Gary’s ability to make someone feel seen and heard in under five minutes, and my ability to hold space for someone and help them find solutions, it’s a dream team.
What is VaynerMedia’s culture club?
We have something called RAD. At the macro level, we do things like put on huge company-wide parties. Last summer we had VaynerMedia’s 7th Anniversary, so we took over an entire summer camp in Pennsylvania. RAD coordinated everything from the logistics of getting every NYC-based employee to the camp, buying t-shirts, which bands were going to play, who’s on what team, who’s team captain, what’s in the swag bag.
We also believe in something called Surprise and Delight. An example of that is, tomorrow Bianca shows up to work and there are a bunch of violets on her table. Why? Just because we love and appreciate our colleagues. Or it was Rick’s seven year anniversary the other day, and he loves karaoke, so we gave him a $100 gift certificate to a karaoke bar a couple blocks away. Another way we Surprise and Delight is letting Gary know it’s someone’s birthday, and he sends them a message on Twitter. S&D exists to remind people that, “We got you. We see you.” And all of that contributes to the culture. That’s the RAD team.
How does VaynerMedia’s culture affect its social channels?
We have a really vast social media presence on Instagram and Twitter, and a little bit on LinkedIn and Facebook. These are great recruitment vehicles as well as ways we are able to share the good that is going on in here!
Over to you!
How does your company gauge and nurture a healthy heartbeat? What does culture mean to you? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter!