Claude Silver is the Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia the advertising company co-founded by Gary Vaynerchuk in 2009. Prior to joining Gary Vayernchuk, Claude spent 20 years in the top tiers of the advertising world, working for Publicis and J Walter Thompson, building global brand strategies for Fortune 50 companies. Her current role is to connect with every employee at VaynerMedia, inspire, mentor and lead the team, and infuse the company with empathy.
We started our chat with Claude’s move from advertising strategy to becoming the heart of the VaynerMedia. She told me about the differences and similarities between different generations and how she hires and retains top talent in a company in which 85% of the people are millennials. Claude talked about why “cultural fit” has become less relevant in employing new people and how working actively towards inclusion through “cultural addition” inspires and retains talent. We touched on the way Claude tackles those employees that need to be let go, and we explored career architecture, the increasingly fast-paced world we live in, and the opportunities this opens up.
This show was recorded at a live event in Sharjah, so there is a little background noise.
Read the Transcript
Rana Nawas: (00:00)
Ladies and gentlemen, my guest on today’s show is a people leader who connects heart with hustle. Claude Silver is the Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia; the Advertising Agency that Gary Vaynerchuk co-founded in 2009. There, she unlocks employees potential, empowers teams to be purpose driven and infuses the agency with empathy, humanity and joy. Prior to VaynerMedia, Claude had a 20 year career in advertising – having held leadership positions at Publicis and J. Walter Thompson – where she guided client relationships and built global brand strategies for fortune 50 companies. If you’re interested in how to attract, hire and retain top talent, this is the episode for you. We talked about what makes millennials tick. This demographic makes up 85% of VaynerMedia’s workforce. I learned that hiring the best team has a lot to do with diversity and retaining talent has a lot to do with inclusion. We talked about VaynerMedia’s evolution in hiring, going from cultural fit to skill sets fit and cultural addition. We discussed diversity and how to hold space for people who are different so that all employees can thrive and perform. Some other stuff came up too; like Claude’s Outdoor Adventure Company. This show was recorded in Sharjah, live, so there’s some background noise from time to time. So, let’s get into it.
Rana Nawas: (01:33)
Claude, thank you so much for coming on When Women Win. It is such a pleasure to have this time with you in Sharjah.
Claude Silver: (01:37)
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited we got setup yesterday.
Rana Nawas: (01:41)
I know, it happened fast. Now, you come from a very long and strong background in advertising, so how did you get into the people function?
Claude Silver: (01:50)
Yeah, I love that question because you’re right. I had a very long career in advertising. However, pre-advertising, I was studying to be a psychotherapist. I was an Outward Bound Instructor. Pre that, I was always the cheerleader and coach of any athletic team. I believe in people and I’ve always been one of those people who roots for everyone. I don’t know where it comes from, I think from my nana. I’m an optimistic person and I really believe that if we remove our barriers and our limiting beliefs, we can achieve great things. So that’s always been in my DNA. I did not plan on going into advertising. It was 1998, I was in San Francisco and I was getting my master’s. I was managing a very small boutique grocery store and someone came in and said, “I think you would be a phenomenal Project Manager at my internet.com company.” I didn’t even know what that was, but I knew it would pay me more money than I was making at the grocery store and I knew that I was going to say goodbye to my academics right there, but I would always stay true to who I was. So as I entered into the advertising world, shortly but surely, I started to manage big teams, global teams, and my coaching and belief in people vibe stayed with me the entire way. And advertising was fantastic because it’s a study of human behavior and that’s what I had already been doing.
Rana Nawas: (03:15)
And that’s how you ended up in VaynerMedia?
Claude Silver: (03:17)
So, exactly. So when I met Gary, I was living in London. I was running strategy for Publicis London, working on global brands and my best friend introduced us and next thing you know, he moved me to New York and I started at VaynerMedia, which is an advertising agency, so I had this voice in my head prior to meeting Gary for about four or five years, which said, “you really only care about people.” I just love teams. I love connection. I love it when a team starts to get into that flow place. So I met Gary. I went back into the world of advertising. I ran all of our Unilever accounts. When that voice came up in my head again and said, “this isn’t what you want to be doing, it doesn’t matter to you if the package is blue, green or gray.” What matters to me is the thinking that went behind it. What matters to me is the collaboration that went behind it, the self-awareness that went behind it, the wanting to empathize with the consumer that went behind it. So I went to Gary and I said, thank you so much, but I’m done.
Rana Nawas: (04:17)
Claude Silver: (04:19)
I tried to quit. And he said, I need you for 18 more months, and I said, I don’t have 18 months, but I’ll give you 6. And he said, “what do you want to do?” Which is a question he always asks. And I said, “I only believe in people. I just want to be around the heartbeat of this place, heartbeat.” So, 6 months later I found an incredible person to backfill me and I left the company. Four months later he called me for breakfast and he said, “that’s it, you’re coming back. You’re going to be Chief Heart Officer.” And I knew exactly what that meant because I have always been me. I was still me while I was doing the Unilever work. I was still flying to all these other offices and creating culture and finding culture champions there. So it was a match made in heaven. And he’s a smart guy.
Rana Nawas: (05:11)
I love that story. For the benefit of the listeners all over the world, could you please tell us a bit more about this guy and about VaynerMedia?
Claude Silver: (05:20)
Of course. Gary Vaynerchuk is an incredible businessman. He started in the wine business, selling wine, and then he started an advertising agency for one purpose only: to buy brands, run them and market them as he wanted to. So Gary started the agency. It started as a social media shop and a community management shop. Surely enough we started to get really big fortune- 10 fortune, 50 clients and we started to do their digital work and their branding work and help them with their strategy and how they want to market, all on the mobile device, because those are the cigarettes of today. That is it, you know, that is how we communicate. We’re global. We have five offices. We’re also opening in Singapore shortly and we’re in London already. And then, of course, the States and our remit really is to be in attention. We are in the attention business, the attention of our consumers.
Rana Nawas: (06:22)
You talked about how many offices you have, I believe you have over 800 employees. That right?
Claude Silver: (06:28)
Rana Nawas: (06:29)
Could you tell me a bit about the profile? Like the age. You’re talking about everything you do is on mobile, it’s today’s cigarettes. I’m thinking it’s a young crowd.
Claude Silver: (06:38)
Yes, we’re 85% millennial.
Rana Nawas: (06:40)
What does that mean?
Claude Silver: (06:41)
Millennials? So our age group starts at 23, straight out of university. And then 23 to about 30 is the bulk of our employees and then it starts to thin out. I’m one of the oldest people there. So, I am in my fourth decade. There’s so much vibrancy in the workforce today. The millennial generation sometimes gets a bad rap. Really, they’re hungry, they’re vibrant, they want to change the world and they’re going to change the world. They really are.
Rana Nawas: (07:11)
This is something I really want to dive into if we could, because everybody says, “oh, millennials are so different.” You know, this work ethic difference, are these generations…. are the 22 year olds really different from the 32 year olds and are they really different from the 42 year olds? What have you seen?
Claude Silver: (07:26)
So I don’t think the 22 year olds are very different than I was at 22. That is what I will say. I think we are all hungry. We are all, at that age, picking our heads out of our books or getting to know ourselves or finding our own identity and we’re hungry for the world. We want to be change agents. Everyone does. I really, really believe that. So I don’t think they’re much different than who we were at those ages. But I think life has changed. Obviously, things have gotten incredibly fast due to mobile devices and due to the speed of globalization of the world, quite frankly, and we at VaynerMedia, are the microcosm to the macrocosm. We faced the same issues on a smaller scale, that happened in the world or the political climates, the same challenges. And we have some of the same celebrations. So celebrating people, celebrating victories, celebrating the small and the large and recognition of people, those types of things, I think that every single human being wants and this generation happens to be fast. They want to get there yesterday. That raise, that promotion, when can I? How can I? How are you going to get me there? And they’re asking for it though, which I appreciate. A lot of people think that that generation is entitled, I’m going to say hungry. I don’t think it’s entitlement. I think that they are hungry. There’s a different kind of ethos that is in the air right now, especially at Vayner and especially in the cosmopolitan cities that we’re incorporated. The group, this cohort, is so purpose driven and it isn’t all about the paycheck. It really isn’t. It’s “how can I, how can we be a part of the change?” Whether or not it’s something as small as: “hey Claude, can we create a donation box because it’s the holiday season and New York City is freezing in the holiday?” Or “Can we go out and can we have the day off to go march in the streets for women equality or pay equality?”
Rana Nawas: (09:27)
So bearing all this in mind, how do you manage that at a business level? How do you retain young professionals when they want to get there faster when, obviously, the pyramid in the business structure doesn’t allow for that. What do you do?
Claude Silver: (09:41)
Yeah, so I actually, I want to talk about hiring first, if I may, and then we’ll go straight into retaining. So we used to, at VaynerMedia, hire for culture fit and if you had the skill set, great. If not, I would teach you. We had luxury. We had the luxury of time then. And culture fit meaning; you lived in London? I lived in London. You’re hired. That’s fantastic. You like Dave Matthews band? I like Dave Matthews band. Coachella? I went to Coachella, you’re hired. Those days have changed. We now hire for skill set fit and culture addition. And culture addition allows us to cast a wide net on diversity, inclusivity, looking at people with different ethnicities, race, sexual orientation, seen and unseen handicap, and also diversity of thought. So we hire for people that are in the zip code of our values, but we don’t want apples and apples and apples. We want people who think differently or who can expose us to different, which is incredible. Not “other” different. There’s is a difference between feeling “other” and being exposed to different philosophies and theories. So what I mean by that is, if we’re on the diversity train, the thing that’s on my mind all the time is “how are we creating a psychologically and physically safe space for our employees at VaynerMedia?” Why? Well, we want people to come in and bring their best selves every single day. And that means they need to see themselves in the hallways, and whatever that means, again, race, sexual orientation so forth and so on. But also, you know, people feel “other” in this world and “other” even goes deeper, sometimes in the color of your skin. “Others” sometimes can go with a physical handicap or a mental handicap. Mental illness makes another person feel “other.” How do we create an inclusive and safe space, a courageous space, for people to feel more connected? Rather than: “gosh, all the guys play golf on the weekends. I guess I should learn how to play golf because I’m a woman.” Well, that doesn’t feel very good. How do we dismantle that and create much more of a circular culture?
Rana Nawas: (12:04)
Yeah. So, how do you do that?
Claude Silver: (12:05)
Yeah. So we do that in a variety of ways…
Rana Nawas: (12:07)
Sorry, and I asked because, obviously, companies now are very focused on increasing their diversity and inclusion. So people who are already at the diverse are like, okay, great, you know, we’ve asked them to the party, now let’s ask them to dance. So how do you create that inclusive environment given how many different aspects there are to diversity? Just as you said, gender, race, sexual orientation, age style and a handicap.
Claude Silver: (12:35)
You got it. Yeah. And I love that you added to that the culture, because it’s a soup. There’s so many different ingredients now in diversity, but you’re right. Inclusivity and inclusion are the key. So a couple of ways; one that I’m extremely proud of that I’ll share: about four or five months ago we hired a Psychologist in Cultural Competency, Cultural Sensitivity, to come in and train 20 of us in the New York Office on cultural sensitivities. So this professor came in and he trained us on unconscious bias, microaggression, entitlement, oppression and social justice issues. Why did he do that? Well, again, we’re in a microcosm of 800 people in different locations and we need to know how to hold space for courageous conversations and hold space for people who are challenged or having challenges with certain things as benign as: “Gosh, that person really smells, Huh?” What do I do with that conversation? Or: “Gosh, I overheard in a conference room that that person has dyslexia and is really dumb.” What do we do with that? So we’re in the business of humanity and courageous conversations. Those of us that have been trained are now able to have these conversations, these brave conversations with people that don’t know where to go to. So, that’s one way to dismantle this idea of “other” and bring more people to the dance in the party. The other way is, we have employee groups, so whether or not there are people that identify as Latina or Latino, they’ve created a group called “The Amigo Squad.” We have a squad for people that identify as black or Asian or LGBTQ, and these are affinity groups within the organization in all offices. They are there to come together, collaborate and share their cultures with us. Whether or not that’s a dance, whether or not that’s a meal, whether or not that’s a festival, gay pride festivals and so on and so forth, it’s so important for people to feel connected and to not feel a scarlet letter on them. The world already does that. We want VaynerMedia to be a place where people feel that they can come and be their best selves and that is my responsibility but it’s also everyone’s responsibility.
Rana Nawas: (15:00)
Yeah. You talked about holding the space. So you talked about the affinity groups and having these difficult conversations is the goal to train everyone in the company to have difficult conversations?
Claude Silver: (15:13)
The goal is to let everyone know in the company that we have a place to go if you need or want to have a brave, courageous conversation.
Rana Nawas: (15:22)
Oh okay. So, like an ombudsperson?
Claude Silver: (15:25)
Yes, exactly. Exactly. In theory, it would be wonderful to train everyone because then we might not need to have them, but that’s utopia and we don’t live in utopia. We are human beings, life on life terms and we can’t change everyone. You can bring the horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. So those who have raised their hand to be part of this pilot are in the program.
Rana Nawas: (15:49)
And so we talked a little bit about how millennials are different to us oldies and I wonder Gen Z is probably quite similar to millennial, just maybe a little faster. Are there differences in the way we retain these people?
Claude Silver: (16:04)
I absolutely think so. I really do. I think that the workforce today, the millennial and as we go into Gen Z, are looking for more purpose driven work. They’re looking for more autonomy and the ability to architect their own careers, which is huge. Less authority, so flatter organizations, a more collaborative space. But the career architecture is something that I want to hit on for a second. So yes, everyone has a job description of sorts. What career architecture means is just because you and I are both art directors, we are allowed to color outside of the lines, no pun intended, in how we go about our day-to-day job and how we decide and determine where we’re going next. If you and I are both project managers, yes, we have a remit and we know what our responsibility is every single day, but that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t add on a different type of a side hustle to your role or it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to still do some social media for so-and-so campaign. You have the ability to think outside of the box or color outside of the lines and career architecting is really, really important. You know, someone just asked me in the segment I just did and I think he was probably 24 or 25, “hey, should I just focus my eye on the prize of wanting to be CEO one day and just be CEO?” And I said to him “there is no such thing as a straight line anymore. There’s fluidity. Please take right and left turns. Soak up as much experience as you can. It’s no longer going into the workforce, getting an MBA and being a consultant at Bain…”
Rana Nawas: (17:51)
For the rest of your life? Yeah.
Claude Silver: (17:52)
Yeah… “There’s so many different paths now, I think, to get to whatever your aspirational goal is or to that end goal. And by the way, why have an end goal right now? You’re 24 years old. Live, experience life, learn.”
Rana Nawas: (18:08)
Yeah. And that was even different from our parents’ generation to ours. And it keeps changing. Like, I studied engineering and I got my engineering degree and my parents were like: “what do you mean you’re going to be a Management Consultant and not an Engineer?” You know, my sister did Maths. They’re like: “what are you going to be? Are you going to be a Maths Teacher?” And she runs Gatorade globally for football.
Claude Silver: (18:29)
Rana Nawas: (18:31)
It’s changed. Even from our generation, it was different and it just keeps evolving, doesn’t it? The path is no longer linear and that’s been the case for while.
Claude Silver: (18:40)
I believe that there’s more freedom now to create your reality when organizations are able to adapt to the workforce rather than having workforce employees adapt to a value written on a wall someplace, because that means nothing.
Rana Nawas: (18:59)
And this is something that I push through my work with Ellevate the business women’s network and also with When Women Win. If we’re talking, for example, about gender parity, you’re not going to get gender parity in leadership if we maintain the current corporate structure where we’re losing women all along the value chain. There’s a reason why they’re 50 percent of intake and 5% at the top. Right. So the corporate structure has to change. It has to evolve for whether we are talking about retaining more women or millennials.
Claude Silver: (19:30)
Exactly. And the corporate structure, yes it has to change because there’s diversity of thought going on in this world and because there is more globalization and because the world does get smaller sometimes when we collaborate cross culturally or across oceans, you know. So, I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’ve read so many statistics that when females are on boards or at the top, the culture is better. Actually, the profits are larger. And you know, don’t get me started on the term soft skills because I don’t like the term, but I do think, yes generalization, that more females are prone to be more empathetic and I think bringing that, bringing more heart, bringing more humanity into the workspace, which is something I speak about daily, is the key. You’re able to see people as people rather than titles or stature or MBA, PhD, yada-da-da.
Rana Nawas: (20:33)
And for people, for employees, who don’t have that option yet, you know, it’s going to be a while before we rip up the corporate structure. Hopefully it’s happening. I mean not hopefully, as it is happening – it’ll be a while before it’s global so the revolution reaches all corners of the world. So then to come back to something you mentioned, which is somebody is asking about: “should I pursue this path or do something I’m passionate about?” You know, the answer is well: “why not both?” You know, you’ve got your job and if you can’t find your passion in the job that you need to pay the bills, explore an outside avenue. That’s what I had to do and I discovered my passion being gender parity as pro bono. I run this woman’s network. That’s my passion. But I need to pay the bills.
Claude Silver: (21:13)
Yeah, exactly. And I think going back to that advertising career, my career in advertising gave me an incredible life. I learned so much. I was able to pay my bills and travel quite a bit. My love of life is people and the development of people and teams. And now I’m at the age where I could…I had an opportunity with Gary Vaynerchuk to do this work, but I’m at the age where I can follow my bliss and make that choice for myself where I might not have had as much courage earlier in my life.
Rana Nawas: (21:46)
Yeah. So let’s come back to hiring and also I’m going to ask about firing. So, hiring this diverse workforce…we know that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams and as we talked about, diversity covers many things. So how do you hire the best talent across these diverse aspects? How do you hire the best millennials? How do you hire the best woman? How do you hire the best man? How do you hire the best?
Claude Silver: (22:14)
So first and foremost, you must have a team of recruiters or a company that knows we are not only are hiring the best, but we are hiring for diversity. That is important. And so doing unconscious bias training, I have found, is very, very, very, very helpful in the interview process. That is true. Otherwise we are going to hire same. Yeah. That’s just how we relate, right? You went to this college. I went to this college, so forth and so on. But that is not how we’re going to get the best talent. That is how we’re going to get cookie cutters. So that is first and foremost; knowing that “hey, this is how we hire here at VaynerMedia: skill set fit and culture addition.” Here are the questions to ask, so skill set fit…. Yes, If you know how to code, that’s a yes. I’m not going to figure out your EQ by knowing if you know how to code. But there are questions that we ask and that we train folks to ask that allow us to seek out diversity of values and diversity of thought such as: “tell me a time when you made a mistake at work and how did you correct it?” “Tell me how you manage up.” “Tell me how you manage down.” “How do you build cohesive teams?” Those types of things. “What kind of a leader are you? Blank canvas. Paint me your perfect job.” I’m listening there to see if they’re painting me the job on the paper because that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m not interested in you being able to fulfil everything I’ve written in black and white. I want to see how you think and how you feel. So interview questions are extremely important and that’s something we do a lot of interview training on.
Rana Nawas: (23:57)
So you do all your recruitment internally? You don’t hire external recruiters?
Claude Silver: (24:01)
We don’t, we don’t, we have internal recruiters for, I think, almost every single role. Maybe the very rare bird role that we can’t get. Now in creative advertising agencies, we are all searching for similar talent, diverse talent, more females at the top. So we’re all having the same hunt, which is really fascinating that it’s not just a problem for us or for that agency; we’re all in it together and we’re able to talk about it more. Well, this is a situation for all industries as well, management consulting is in exactly the same situation. And also, not just females but different orientations of every single kind. But advertising, we need a swath of the representation of the world or the representation of the demographics that we’re going after. Otherwise, I assume that you eat the same cookie that I eat just because we’re in the same age bracket. Well that’s kind of ridiculous. So, you know, I keep on harping on the fact that we do a lot of training and we talk about these things. We really do. If we’re doing some kind of interview blitz, meaning we have five candidates coming in and the three of you are going to meet these five candidates, it’s going to be a long afternoon. The three of us, we’re not asking those candidates the same exact question. You’re sussing out skill set fit, I’m sussing out values and would they be in addition to the culture? You’re sussing out leadership skills or management skills and that way you can focus on your questions. I can focus on my questions and then we get together and we do a feedback session.
Rana Nawas: (25:48)
And I’ve heard that the best practice is to ask the various candidates the same questions. Is that what you do?
Claude Silver: (25:54)
Yeah, exactly. However you’re asking your segment.
Rana Nawas: (25:57)
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Claude Silver: (25:59)
But hiring is really, really fascinating because, you know, what that’s saying is what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. It doesn’t always stand up in water because we’re also changing as fast as we possibly can. I mean, the one thing we’re not romantic about at VaynerMedia is change. The one thing we are romantic about is how well we treat our people. So we need to be agile and understand that we need to be looking at, for example, female populations of returning mothers or veterans from the war, you know, “how are we going to hold space and create opportunities and an environment where all feel welcomed again?”
Rana Nawas: (26:41)
I love this concept of holding space. How do you treat returning moms? Do you have maternity policy?
Claude Silver: (26:49)
We do. We call it parental policy. In the States, we have three months that birth moms can go out, which is different than I think in, for example, Europe, where it’s almost like a year.
Rana Nawas: (27:02)
But it’s three months full pay?
Claude Silver: (27:03)
Three months you go on something called “Short Term Disability.” Your job is held for you though, which is, very, very important. Before the mom goes out, we go through an entire handbook of what to expect, what’s going to happen and so forth and so on. And you’re going to hand us or hand your manager handover sheets, handover notes. When you go out, there’s some steps that you’re going to go through. Okay. You have to register your child for your insurance. You have to send us the birth certificate, so forth and so on. When you are three months or in some cases four months, if you choose to take your vacation as well, you’re going to come back to work four days a week. But we’re going to talk to you before you come back so you know what you’re walking into and it’s not a firestorm. We’re not handing you the hot potato just because you came back, you know, that’s a big deal. And also for returning father’s too.
Rana Nawas: (28:02)
So I was coming to ask you about that. So apparently the biggest retainer of women at the top is paternity leave because that demonstrates that we need gender parody at home; men take on part of the burden of the family before the woman feels more comfortable committing to the job.
Claude Silver: (28:18)
Men or partners in the case of…
Rana Nawas: (28:21)
Claude Silver: (28:21)
And that’s why we actually changed the word to “parental” leave because how do we have inclusivity?
Rana Nawas: (28:29)
And they get the same? The partner gets the same amount? Three months?
Claude Silver: (28:32)
No, the partner gets three weeks. Yeah. So that’s different at our company. Now, a company like Facebook or Google is ideal and hopefully we get to that place where we can offer that same kind of equality, but what we will do is when that partner goes out on leave, the non-birth parent goes out on leave, we will not bother that person. And that is really important. You know, it’s, it’s extremely important to allow parents this time of getting to know this foreign creature and three weeks isn’t enough and three months will never be enough, but it’s a start in the right direction.
Rana Nawas: (29:10)
Well, what I’ve heard from some companies that have a parental leave or paternity and the partner, In this case the dad, doesn’t feel comfortable taking that leave because although it’s policy, it’s actually not encouraged. It shows they’re not committed. So some companies have started forcing the people at the top to take advantage of this policy.
Claude Silver: (29:35)
So now I’ve seen that in vacation policy and holiday. We have unlimited vacation.
Rana Nawas: (29:40)
Claude Silver: (29:41)
Unlimited. It is difficult for some people to actually take vacation, take time off. I think especially as you’re growing in your career, you want to be seen as hustling. You want to be seen as working 15 hours a day. But really, is that the recognition you want? No, recognition is that you’re a hard-working human being that also has a life. These are changes that might sound minor, but they are macro changes and a paradigm within the culture. One of the things Gary does very well is he has come out loud and proud saying he takes eight weeks off.
Rana Nawas: (30:19)
Really? Gary takes eight weeks?
Claude Silver: (30:21)
Rana Nawas: (30:22)
Well then you think, if Gary Vaynerchuk can take eight weeks off….
Claude Silver: (30:24)
That’s exactly right. And he goes off the grid. I have texted many times without an answer, you know. So setting that from the top seriously, seriously helps and I think that is not only retention, but that’s attractive. If you’re coming to VaynerMedia, not going to a publicly held company, we want to share with you why we are different and why we believe this is the place, outside of having a wonderful, celebrity CEO.
Rana Nawas: (30:54)
So you talked about being attractive, let’s talk about hiring. How do you go about that?
Claude Silver: (31:01)
More sourcing candidates and looking?
Rana Nawas: (31:03)
Claude Silver: (31:03)
So, we go about it differently for different departments. In the media department, where Maths is a very good thing to have or the analytical skills, we put everyone through a junior role in the Media Department; a three month curriculum, three month course. We are taking people straight out of university there. Now they don’t have to be a computer science major. All they need to do is pass a data set.
Rana Nawas: (31:39)
Claude Silver: (31:39)
It is numeric in foundation, in some way, shape or form. It wouldn’t have been me, I wouldn’t have passed the data set. I’ve seen it. I still won’t pass it. But with that, at least we know that you are going to have an easier time evolving and going through the program.
Rana Nawas: (31:55)
Two scenarios: what would you advise a manager to do when they inherit a team? So you’re not hiring. You come in, you’re hired and you have this team to manage. Where do you start?
Claude Silver: (32:11)
That’s been me. So I go on a listening tour and I get to know every single person. I ask the good, the bad, the ugly, what’s going well, what’s going great, what do you want to change? I ask questions: “what would you do if you were in my role coming in as the leader of the team?'” You know, I think what I did was I found out what makes them tick because I want be around people and I want our culture to be one that is a learning culture, a culture of curiosity, and a culture of care. You know, cynicism is something that doesn’t work. I find that it’s very toxic. So I’m also listening for that, just as listening in an interview on whether someone’s going to bash the role that they’re at in the company that they’re at, well they’ll probably bash us too, at some point. So a listening tour is something that I highly suggest. If you can do it for 30 days, do it for 30 days. If you can do it for longer, do it for longer. But the value, I say this often, when you come into VaynerMedia or come into any company and you’re adopting a team, the value is that you got through the door, you made it, you don’t need to make that sale day one. It’s not about being cut-throat. It’s about understanding who you have with you on this team and how you’re going to get them from good to great and from great to exceptional and that’s going to be a marathon. Yeah, it starts with listening. I think everything comes down to listening. I really do. Connecting, listening, showing your cards, showing a little bit of vulnerability is always a good thing in my boat.
Rana Nawas: (33:49)
You mentioned cynicism as toxic. What are the other situations in which you think, all right, it’s time to fire this person? When do you know the time is right?
Claude Silver: (33:59)
So, a couple different scenarios. One, if the person has been with you for x amount of time, so let’s just say two years and they’re still, for some reason, either operating a status quo, they don’t seem very engaged or they fall into like a C-player and we’re really having a hard time getting them to A, that’s probably a moment in time where we’ll either put them on a performance plan or help them find another job outside of the organization, which we do. We have something called “The Alumni Program,” so because of who Gary is, he gets a lot of CMOs saying, “hey, do you have someone for this position?” If I know, we’re going to exit you ahead of time in that conversation I’m having with you or the manager’s having with you and we’re going to because it’s hard, you’re just listening like “okay, you’re firing me, you stink. What’s my severance package? You stink.” But I prick up your ears when I say “I know you are a copywriter and really love writing original long form content, we’ve networked you with someone on Hulu or someone on Netflix for your first conversation,” which is great.
Rana Nawas: (35:09)
Now, how do you get to that point?
Claude Silver: (35:14)
So, a lack of performance, lack of EQ, that this person is having a really hard time playing nicely with others. And those are things that we’re looking at, aside from the egregious issues, of course. But one of the things that we did, about two and a half years ago, is we took a look at our entire workforce and we said, “is this person going to be with us for three, five and ten years?” If so, cool, “what do we need to do to make sure that they are satisfied or they’re at the height of their journey?” If not, then what? Decision tree lands? Are they not in the right position? Are they working under the wrong manager? Is it time to go? We’re also looking at our workforce and resources to see if we’re bloated; because if we’re bloated, our operating cost go up, it’s just a losing battle for us. But performance is a big reason that we’ll let someone go at the occasion that the businesses is evolving and the skill set isn’t there, which isn’t performance, if the skill set isn’t there…
Rana Nawas: (36:25)
…to help them find something.
Claude Silver: (36:28)
Yes, always, always, always, always.
Rana Nawas: (36:30)
You touched on something I find really, really interesting; that the fact that somebody might be performing worse under a certain manager. How do you recognize that? Because I’ve had that experience, right? I’ve had, you know, a long career at GE, 13 years at GE, and I bloomed under some managers and I wilted under others. How do you pick up on that?
Claude Silver: (36:55)
So, I’m in a very privileged scenario where my remit is to touch every single employee, which means speak to every single employee and as I’m doing that, I’m collecting data. Now, if I’ve spoken to five people in the last three weeks that are all reporting to the same manager and I’m hearing a threads of the same type of feedback, then I realize the common denominator, subjective common denominator, maybe there’s an issue with that manager or the lack of management style or that manager is a seagull manager that just comes in and poops and leaves, those types of things. So we have to pay attention to our workforce and listen, hold space in a non-judgment way and listen to what they’re saying. Yes, it’s all subjective, but I do think patterns speak for themselves. A human behavior patterns, just like mathematical patterns, are all the same. So, those are things that we’re listening to now. It’s not all coming to me. It could come to Gary. It could come to people on my team. It could come to the culture champions I was telling you about, but at some point it does surface.
Rana Nawas: (38:04)
Yeah, it does get aggregated somewhere.
Claude Silver: (38:07)
It does. Yeah. And we want it to because we want to be the best organization we possibly can. We want people to thrive. We do not want people to wilt. I’ve been there too and it is a very sad place to be in when you see the person that walked in the door two years ago as a vibrant soul and now they’re cynical or now they, you know, they turn gray. So that’s on me. I oversee all people and experience. So that’s on me. And then what do we do about that?
Rana Nawas: (38:40)
Right. Before we wrap up Claude, I might just ask you a few questions.
Claude Silver: (38:45)
Rana Nawas: (38:46)
Rapid fire round. What’s your favorite outdoor sport?
Claude Silver: (38:49)
Rana Nawas: (38:50)
Snowboarding? But you were surfing…
Claude Silver: (38:52)
Yeah, snowboarding and wakeboarding. But I love snowboarding. I feel like I could fly.
Rana Nawas: (39:00)
Wow. What’s your favorite quote?
Claude Silver: (39:04)
“People forget what you said. People forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Rana Nawas: (39:10)
That’s Maya Angelou.
Claude Silver: (39:10)
Rana Nawas: (39:10)
That’s one of my favorites. And where can listeners find you?
Claude Silver: (39:14)
On Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter – Claude Silver.
Rana Nawas: (39:18)
And you have your website?
Claude Silver: (39:20)
Yeah. I have a website claudesilver.com.
Rana Nawas: (39:22)
Excellent. Thank you for your time.
Claude Silver: (39:24)
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Rana Nawas: (39:26)
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