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On 22 September, Claude joined Michele Olton, Head of People and Culture USA at the World Economic Forum USA for a webinar hosted by The Quorum Initiative, an organisation that furthers the advancement of women in executive roles in business, culture and public policy. The Quorum Initiative kindly offered CLL a number of free places on the webinar.

Throughout this illuminating hour-long event, Claude shared her insights and experiences across a range of themes.

On how the role of Chief Heart Officer came about

I’d been working in strategy at the business for around 16 months. I loved the company but I was done with advertising. I told Gary (Vaynerchuk, founder of VaynerMedia) I wanted a role that was more about people. I left the business but stayed in close contact with Gary. About four months later he created the role of Chief Heart Officer and I returned to VaynerMedia in that capacity. It’s about really understanding people and their cultures and inspiring and coaching them. We want to give all our people a positive experience of VaynerMedia, both during and after their time with us.

After… ?

Yes, we always try to help people, even when we part company with them. One way we do this is by setting up networking opportunities among our wider community. It’s a good way to keep them in our ecosystem, even if we can’t find a home for them in our organisation.

On the impact of the new role

We’ve hired qualified HR people with knowledge and expertise in legal, compliance and employer benefits, etc. Which is great as HR is not my background. So, in a recent situation where two people were at odds with each other, I was able to sit down with them and tell them that this wasn’t an HR issue – it was a human issue. I’m getting people to see me as Switzerland, totally neutral. I will reach out to people, rather than wait for them to come to me. The effect is that we’re building a psychologically safe environment for conflict resolution.

On advice for other leaders

Show empathy, show vulnerability. Lean into people and listen. Combine your awareness of external issues such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ and other dimensions of diversity and inclusion with what you know in your own organisation.

On how Covid has affected the role

Prior to Covid, I wasn’t using a formal toolkit in my role. However, lately, I’ve moved towards a two-phase approach: triage and sustain.

Working from home has forced me to be more transparent and have a greater understanding of the pressures working parents are under – after all I am one!

I’m also more aware of when I’m being chicken and make a conscious effort to call myself out and have the courage to be honest with my emotions. In turn that has helped me urge others to do the same and go that extra mile to get everything off their chest.

One massive insight happened just after the Black Lives Matter riots. A black colleague said to me, ‘I’ve never been able to bring my whole self to work.’ That hit me because a) I hadn’t realised this person felt that way but also because b) it also brought home to me that there are emotions other people such as disabled colleagues and those in the LGBTQ community may be experiencing that their skin colour doesn’t necessarily portray.

On giving feedback to colleagues

Feedback has one purpose: to help people to grow. The way you see someone is how you’re going to treat them. Others will see this process, so it will influence their behaviours towards people, too. When giving feedback, be kind, be clear, be specific and follow up to see how it’s been taken on board.

On how to support women in business

Those of us in influential positions need to help women tackle imposter syndrome, provide a voice for the voiceless and embolden any woman who may be the only female around a meeting table. It’s vital that they can find – and use – their voice and learn to not always say sorry. A great way to coach this  is through role playing, where women can practice taking up space and being big in the room. Strangely, I have more success with this on Zoom than in real life – maybe because everyone looks the same size on the Zoom screen!

On self-care

I take on a lot of human emotion in my role so it’s important not to take it in. I need to ‘empty the bucket’ every day. I do this through multiple small milestones. I stop work at a certain time, practice breathing exercises and make sure I get plenty of sleep. I love to cook and spend quality time with my young family.

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