How to improve retention with employee development (podcast recap)

Claude Silver is part guidance counselor, part coach, but she’s all heart as the world’s first Chief Heart Officer (CHO) at VaynerMedia, an award-winning digital advertising agency. The organization employs 900 staffers around the world, including a recently opened Asia-Pacific headquarters at a WeWork in Singapore.

CHO is a role Silver pioneered after working as VaynerMedia’s SVP of Advertising. Interestingly, the inspiration came as she was preparing to leave the company. She recalls saying to CEO Gary Vaynerchuk, “I’ve learned so much here … but I’m really done in advertising. I’m done selling.” 

When Vaynerchuk asked Silver what she wanted to do, she replied, “I only care about people. I only care about the heartbeat of this place.” This conversation led to creating the CHO role: a position that required empathy and designed to impact every employee. 

Having earned a reputation as an unconventional leader—for example, Silver was known to run team meetings where staffers shared poetry, music or did improv—she began adapting her unique style to the role of CHO. 

Prioritizing employee development pays off 

Silver’s philosophy of coaching, providing wellness resources, and prioritizing employee development helps VaynerMedia build a strong workplace culture ​and​ their bottom line.

When asked to define her role as a CHO, Silver said: “A chief heart officer is taking care of the actual human beings and the heartbeat of this company. I’m here to help them identify roadblocks. I’m here to help them grow and develop. I’m here to help them navigate a complex organization, and I’m here to really help them thrive.” 

Indeed, the team is thriving. The employee retention rate at VaynerMedia is 85%, which is unusually high. Silver credits this percentage with VaynerMedia’s effort to pour energy into the employees, which in turn benefits the organization’s KPIs. When an organization has a strong employee brand both internally and externally, its excellent reputation promotes the brand in ways that traditional marketing cannot. 

Three employee development strategies Silver swears by

When she’s up at night, Silver contemplates ways to make all 900 of VaynerMedia’s employees continue to thrive. In Episode 5 of the Up at Night podcast, Silver makes the case for HR methods that go beyond the typical nine-to-five and shares her top three strategies for employee retention.

1. Focus on energy management

Employers often preach their organization’s “work-life balance” to appeal to new talent. But Silver finds that phrase irrelevant in the modern workforce. Rather, she prefers the phrase “energy management.” She explains: “We’re all tied to our phones. I think that it’s up to us to manage our own energy … What I call it and what we train here is energy management.” 

The practice of energy management encourages employees to become more self-aware. This requires workers to check-in themselves to take inventory of their emotions. Silver believes that when her team members can identify their stress levels, they can learn to take breaks and conserve their energy for opportune times.  

Silver continues, “I can’t tell you how to be balanced and how to balance your day because you might be a better worker at 10:00 PM. I don’t want to pretend that I know what’s best for you and work-life balance.”

2. Implement wellness resources for employees

Silver believes in taking action to maintain employees’ mental wellness. It starts with a simple concept: “We have an open-door policy, period,” Silver reveals. Though she’s careful to note that she’s not a trained psychologist, she values the opportunity to relieve her team from stress and anxieties.

3. Scale the culture, one jam session at a time

According to Silver, one can’t scale the culture by “making decisions from an ivory tower.” Instead, she believes that the key is to converse with your team while relaxing the usual structures. Talk with your people, but ensure that you listen closely.

Silver notes that it “takes a lot of heart and a lot of listening” to scale your culture. To begin, Silver insists that “you’ve got to talk to people. You’ve got to have lunches with people, you gotta bring 25 people into a conference room and just jam with them.” 

If you’re feeling inspired to try new mentorship strategies or new routes to employee development, Silver advises pursuing it. If you want to “switch it up,” Silver urges “don’t wait for the magic wand to come.” Remember, if you’re in charge, you have the incredible ability to set the culture from the top. Be that person who makes the changes. 

If you don’t have a Chief Heart Officer (yet), you can still learn from Silver’s employee development style, and how she’s building a culture that contributes to the bottom line. Listen to Silver’s Up at Night podcast here or read the transcript here.  

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