Leadership Matters with Gale King, Nationwide

Christopher Tkaczyk, Chief Content Officer, Great Place to Work and Gale King, EVP and Chief Administrative Officer, Nationwide

At Nationwide, a Fortune 66 financial services and insurance company, the mission is to protect what matters most by being “on your side.”

Through this conversation, Nationwide’s EVP and Chief Administrative Officer Gale King will shed light on how the company has transformed the brand from the inside out, starting with its people-first culture. She will share how the company’s leadership has had an impact on its award-winning culture, how its diversity and inclusion initiatives – in addition to driving financial strength – have created a source of pride for all associates, and how Nationwide continues to assess and identify innovative ways to build on associate engagement to drive the company’s success.

By sharing Nationwide’s journey, King will highlight the most important success factors to drive an inclusive culture spanning any industry or organization and inspire all that a company can achieve by doing it right.

Key takeaways:

  • The importance of leadership in driving a positive workplace culture.
  • The value of diversity and inclusion in driving both engagement and innovation.
  • Ways to engage leadership to inspire associates to create new opportunities to innovate and improve to exceed business goals.
Show Transcript

Gale King:           All right, guys, were you tired of listening to my bio? It just went on and on. It sounds good. I think I'm old.

Chris:                  I think the first question on everyone's minds is, what do you say to somebody when they ask you, "You're not Gayle King?"

Gale King:           You know what? They typically do. They go, when I introduce myself, they will say, "Oh, I know you from somewhere. I know your name." They're just like, they're puzzled, and I say, "Oh, you're thinking I'm Oprah Winfrey's friend." So, no, I get it all the time.

Chris:                  Yeah.

Gale King:           But I have to tell you this story, it's my favorite story about having this Gale King name, is that I was the commencement speaker in a small city in North Carolina, and they had my name everywhere, right, but they didn't have my picture. So when I got there, the chancellor said, he said, "Gale, I just want you to know, everybody thinks you're Oprah's friend." So I think they had a sold-out crowd that day because I was there.

Gale King:           But anyways, thank you all for coming today, and coming to hear what Nationwide has done.

Chris:                  We have a lot questions for you, so-

Gale King:           I know, Chris has a lot of questions, but before I turn it over to Chris, I have to do this. A little [inaudible 00:01:18] here. Hey, first of all, I have to tell you that I had an opportunity to attend the innovation ... the area where you had all of your partners, as well as the innovation lab, and I wanted to call out a few people who are partners with Nationwide, who actually have helped us become great.

Gale King:           I saw OC Tanner there, they help us with our recognition. I also want to acknowledge Workday, we recently implemented it and it's been absolutely amazing, and I saw Bright Horizon, and we use them for our associates. So the reason I'm sharing that is that these are organizations that's obviously doing it well, and because they're doing it well, it has enabled Nationwide to do a great job as well. So would you give them a big round of applause?

Gale King:           Okay.

Chris:                  Thanks, Gale. We just got a really great update from the folks around the D&I discussion, and I wanted to ask you, why is it important? What's the business case for companies, of any size, and in any industry, including Nationwide, to focus on D&I, and why is it important to the company, but why is it important to you, personally?

Gale King:           Why is it important to me personally? I think, as we think about every company, I think every company has one goal, and their goal is really to be successful, and that is to grow their company for the benefit of their members and their shareholders. So if, in fact, the growth and success of the company is important, then we know that the only way to do that is with talent, and so we know that if you have a strong diversity and inclusion brand, that it helps you attract talent, and if, in fact, that environment is one that is inclusive, then it helps you retain that talent, and if that talent feels that their voice is valued and heard, then they give you their best effort, and that you're able then to innovate. So I think the business case is clear, and we just need more and more people to just do it.

Chris:                  Yeah.

Gale King:           As it relates to me personally, I mean, it's real obvious, I'm an African-American female, and I know how important it is for me to be involved with a company that values me. So personally, it's important.

Chris:                  And you're a veteran of the company for 35 years.

Gale King:           Yes, 35 years.

Chris:                  So I can only imagine the change that's taken place over that time, and how this topic of D&I is at the forefront of what Nationwide is doing. I mean, we like to call companies like Nationwide a quadruple threat, because it's on the 100 Best Companies List at number 57, it's on the 100 Best Workplaces List for both millennials, women, and diversity. It's the four big ones, so congratulations to that.

Gale King:           Thank you, thank you. Thank you.

Chris:                  So, at what point in those 35 years do think there was an inflection point when somebody said that the only way forward was by having a people-first culture?

Gale King:           Yeah, so I think I'll take it back to Nationwide's beginning. Nationwide was founded some 92 years ago, and we were founded with one real belief as a North Star, and that really was, how do we make a difference in valuing people? I believe that that valuing people has resonated throughout our country's history. So as the world has changed, we have had associates and we've had leaders in our company who have basically said, "We don't mirror what the outside world looks like, and so we need to make that change."

Gale King:           You know, when diversity became important, I can recall, as I said, I've been with the company many years, so I remember when I didn't have people in senior positions who looked like me, but I remember that when we began to have the conversation, that because the company valued people, they were open to the conversation, and people within our company are always willing to say, "What else can we do to live into our values of valuing people and making a difference for our members and everyone that's connected with our company?"

Chris:                  Now, the company's been on the 100 Best List for the past five years-

Gale King:           It has.

Chris:                  ... which is great, but what makes it a great place to work for all?

Gale King:           What makes it a great place to work for all is really about how people feel about the company. It's that pride that they have in being connected with Nationwide. It's when you walk into our building, and you know, one of the things, and I'm sure all of you who are active with Great Place to Work know, that we can't, as a leader, I can't tell Nationwide's story. Our associates tell Nationwide's story. So what makes it a great place to work is that our associates believe that if they do the work, that they can become anything they want at Nationwide, and they believe that the company values them, and so they give us their very best.

Chris:                  Yeah. Beyond just looking at head count, and especially when you're talking about diversity and inclusion, how do you measure the results, especially around the For All mission?

Gale King:           Yeah, we measure the results by a number of things, whether or not we're able to attract talent, whether or not we're able to retain talent. We measure it based on our business results, and I want to show you a business slide if you'll bring that up, one that we are extremely proud of that we share.

Gale King:           In the last 10 years, our company, as a result of focusing on engagement, and I want to start in 2009, right after the recession, our CEO, Steve Rasmussen, came into that role, and he said that he was going to use engagement to drive the results of our company. It was one of his main strategies.

Gale King:           So he had a five-pronged strategy, and the first strategy was people and engagement, and as a result, and we report this out annually and we share it monthly with our teams, as you can see, our revenue, our sales and DWP growth, grew over 42% as engagement grew, and our revenue grew 25% as engagement grew. So the bottom line is that we've been able to clearly show the connection between, how engagement showed up is how our bottom line results showed up, and it really made a difference for us. It's a culture for all.

Chris:                  You know, there's been so much talk over the past few years, when it comes to responses to national crises, such as school shootings, such as the Pulse nightclub shooting, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, and increasingly, companies are getting asked these questions. It's like, what are you saying about this? How are you becoming a socially responsible corporate citizen? What's happening at Nationwide?

Gale King:           Yeah, so what I will tell you is that, if, and I think we heard this from all of the speakers earlier today, is the value of trust, and the fact that if people trust you, they can hear you. So one of the things, as you all recall, and I'm sure many of you have had some of this happen, is that right after Orlando and Dallas, many of our associates sent us notes. They were very comfortable saying, "Tell us, what is Nationwide's position on this? How are we responding to it?"

Gale King:           So we felt, at that point in time, that it was time for us to go beyond our diversity and inclusion training and really begin having conversations about what was happening in the external world, and how that was impacting them in the workplace. So we started catalyst for change discussions, and we held these discussions with all of our associates, and what we wanted to do was to create a forum within the workplace, where they are, where we can say, "How are you feeling about this? How are you feeling about police shootings? How are you feeling about the anger and the hostility? How is that showing up at work?"

Gale King:           The environment was so safe that we able to continue, I think that trust was developed even more, because we were able to have that conversation, and part of what we wanted to do was to have them help us say, what else must Nationwide do, but also ask them, what else can they do to effect change, and a lot of it was, how do you get involved? When they first started the conversations, it's like, "Nationwide needs to do this, and Nationwide needs to do that," and we would say, "This is what we're doing, but what else can you do?"

Gale King:           So it was really powerful, but I have to tell you this story, because it's one of my favorite stories from this exchange with the catalyst discussions, is that I was in a meeting, I was in our Des Moines, Iowa office, and we had a group of our associates together, and we break them out. We do the updates, and then we break them into groups and we have conversations, and one of the conversations happened at a table where one young lady, African-American female, shared what it was like having a son who was 16 years old, who was tall and looked like a man, and whenever he left home, how she worried that he would be hurt.

Gale King:           When the report out came, it came from one of her colleagues who was a white male, who said, because she shared it with him that he fully understood it. But at another table, we had a person who had a husband who was a police officer, and she shared how, when he left home, how she was fearful, and when they reported out, what we heard was that they love the people they love, and that they were all fearful, and that love is the same.

Gale King:           So it just opened everybody up to begin to hear how people were feeling in a really positive way. The catalyst for change discussions were powerful for our company, and that's what companies should do when they have environments where they want their associates to feel that nothing's off limit, as long as it's done in a values-based way.

Chris:                  So, I know the conversation around D&I is a very difficult subject for a lot of companies that have failed to jump onboard, and it's great that Nationwide has made that effort. How difficult was it for you to be able to begin having that conversation with top management? I mean, was it difficult, or was it fairly easy?

Gale King:           No, it wasn't difficult. You know, again, I really want to say again, you all would expect, I've been with Nationwide for 35 years, I've been with them because the company has provided me with every opportunity I could have ever dreamed of. It has treated me with great respect, and I have always felt safe in sharing my opinion because I was always providing them input from being a part of the solution, providing solutions. It wasn't to be critical, but it was always, let's talk about how we can make positive change.

Gale King:           I think whenever you approach anything from a place of positivity, people can hear you, and they can listen to you, and they will want to engage with you. So we've had wonderful conversations at Nationwide, and we've made some major changes, and we're constantly evolving.

Chris:                  And how are you tying, or how does D&I directly connect to innovation for you?

Gale King:           Well, at the end of the day, you cannot innovate ... Innovation requires, one, that you take risk, okay, and people are not going to take risk if they don't feel included. So we believe that if we have great engagement, that means, by definition, that they feel included, and that if they feel included and we set the stage for them to innovate, they will innovate.

Gale King:           So we believe that it is, you can't do one without the other, and we've seen it work at Nationwide. Then you get your best thinking because you get people giving you ideas, and you can challenge the status quo. Like, I have a lot of people on my team, and I'm constantly challenging them to make me better. Like, I made a life, or I've been with Nationwide all of my career, but I surround myself with people who not only have been with Nationwide, but new people who bring me new ways of thinking and challenging me to be better.

Chris:                  So as somebody, an African-American woman who is sitting near the top of the company, you are serving as a role model and a mentor to a lot of young millennial-aged workers who make up a large part of your business.

Gale King:           Yes.

Chris:                  And if you think about when you started, how you had a role model, too, which as you told me earlier. What kind of advice are you giving these young folks who are the potential future leaders of your organization?

Gale King:           So my favorite thing to tell everybody is to just believe in yourself, and to ask for what you want, and I'm constantly encouraging them to do it, but I'm kind of teaching them to do it in a way where people can hear them. That means, you know, because people are basically, it's been my belief that people are basically good. There are some bad people in the world, but I think people want to be good. How do you tap into that goodness and bring that goodness out?

Gale King:           So when I'm mentoring people, I'm encouraging, especially young people, I'm really encouraging them to believe that they can accomplish anything in life, and then to really ask for help, and they will find some amazing ... I mean, I started in a company that had very little diversity, and I made it to the C-suite, and I've been at a senior VP level for over 18 years. That happened because a lot of people listened, and believed in me, and trusted me, and wanted me to be successful, and so that's what I try to tell them, that people want you to be successful. So I just tell them to get in the way, and have big dreams, and go ask for help, and go make it happen.

Chris:                  Well, I think we got through about half the questions I-

Gale King:           I know. I know.

Chris:                  ... had prepared, so, but if I don't leave soon, Julian's going to go out there and [crosstalk 00:15:11].

Gale King:           I know, I know.

Chris:                  All right. Thank you so much, Gale.

Gale King:           But before we close-

Chris:                  Yeah.

Gale King:           ... one last thing.

Chris:                  Expecting that.

Gale King:           One last thing, guys. He was supposed to ask me about leader and what should we do, I really want to ask all of you to go and just do one thing that you've been wanting to do. If it's been mentoring somebody that's probably not somebody you would not normally mentor, go do that. I would ask that you do that, and then finally, if you all would thank Michael Bush and Great Place to Work for an amazing conference.

Chris:                  Yes.

Gale King:           Sorry, Chris.

Chris:                  And thank you, Gale.