Gale King, the Chief Administrative Officer at Nationwide, has been with the insurer for more than 35 years and says the reason she has stayed is because her coworkers feel like family. Learn about Nationwide’s culture of caring and how every one of its more than 30,000 associates is made to feel that they matter and make a difference. King also discusses the empowerment she received from her mentors to become one of the highest ranking African-American women in the industry and how Nationwide’s top leaders inspire new team members to stay for life.
Introduction: Welcome to Better by Great Place to Work- a podcast that helps companies become a great place to work for all because it’s better for people, better for business, and better for the world. I’m Christopher Tkaczyk the Chief Content Officer at Great Place to Work. Each week we meet with great leaders who have helped their companies become better workplaces by focusing on their best asset- their people- who in turn help their organizations become more successful. Support for Better comes from Genentech a global leader in biotech and medicine and continues to be a long-time winner on Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.
Chris: Welcome to Better by Great Place To Work. We're coming to you today from the Great Place To Work For All Summit 2019 in San Francisco. I'm joined today by Gale King who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for Nationwide, which is Financial Services Company that has over 30,000 associates and is based in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome, Gail.
Gale King: Well, thank you.
Chris: And I have to ask you also, have you ever met the other Gayle King?
Gale King: I have.
Chris: Yeah? And when she said, ‘everyone mistakes me for you’?
Gale King: I think it’s the other way around. But I get that often. And actually I had the opportunity, she introduced me. So it is -
Gale King: Yeah. So it was neat.
Chris: That’s cool. And what do people – what do you often say to people when they ask you?
Gale King: You know what typically happens when I introduce myself, and I’m Gale King. They go, ‘why do I know that name.’ And so they’re trying, searching to understand why. So I’ll say to them, typically when people are trying to figure out who I am, I think they’re confusing my name with Oprah’s best friend. That’s what happens.
Chris: I actually ran into her one time in the hallway at CBS. And she thought I was somebody else. She walked over and was like, ‘how are you?’ And she gave me this big hug, and I knew who she was, but I’m like, you don’t know who I am. She was very, very sweet.
Gale King: She seems to be.
Chris: Okay. What I want to do is sort of begin to by looking at the numbers. When telling the story of any business I think as a former financial journalist, you look at the numbers to sort of tell the story and as we look at talking about Nationwide's workplace culture, I think the first place we have to start is the results of the trust index survey that Great Place To Work operates and that Nationwide has taken for a number of years. This past year, 88% of your employees have said that Nationwide's a great place to work, which has helped put it on the list of Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work for at number 57, so congratulations for that.
Gale King: Thank you so much. We're very proud.
Chris: Nationwide has also appeared on a number of the other workplace's lists that Great Place To Work puts together, including The Best Workplaces In Financial Services And Insurance, Best Workplaces For Millennials, People Magazine's 2018 list of the Companies That Care as well as the 100 Best Workplaces for Women and the 100 Best Workplaces in Diversity. So congratulations on that.
Gale King: Yeah, thank you.
Chris: It's a job well done. It's a very difficult thing to achieve that triple threat of being on the women's lists, the diversity list and the millennials' list.
Gale King: Our associates, they make it happen.
Chris: Yeah, they do. And so I wanted to ask you the whole theme of the summit this year is about Innovation By All. How is it that Nationwide is living that for all mission? How are you making every employee happy?
Gale King: Yeah, that's really simple. I think at the end of the day, we all want the same things out of life. We want to feel that we matter and that we have an opportunity to contribute and to grow. One of the things that I'm proud that we do at Nationwide is that we recognize that that message has to resonate for all of our associates. And so that's what we do. We show not only with our words but with our actions that you can come into Nationwide and you can be whoever you are and you can be successful as long as you act within the norms and the culture that we value.
Chris: And when you started at Nationwide, what was the culture like?
Gale King: The culture, I've been with the company many, many years. So 35 years is what I'm celebrating. My only job, only company. I've had about 18 different jobs. But when I started with the company, the reason I joined the company was because it had a family feel. It felt like a company that cared about people. So the reason I joined the company was because they made me feel that I mattered and I've stayed with the company because they've made me feel that I've mattered and I've been able to grow and to realize the dreams that I had for a career.
Chris: When you're looking at the future leaders of your company, the millennials, what are you doing to inspire them to stay as long as you have?
Gale King: We measure everything. We are a financial company, so everything gets measured. So one of the things that we know is that people stay where they feel valued. We look at what is our retention? Not only our ability to attract people into our company but our ability to retain people. And I'm proud to say that our retention is in the 90% tile. So we look to see what's happening with our boomers, what's happening with the Gen X and what's happening with our millennials. But what we have found, and as I always go back to this, is that it does not matter what your generation is. You really do have the same things, you want to feel that you matter. And our millennials, what they like, they like a company that gives back.
Gale King: So one of the things we do a lot with any new person when they join our company from an onboarding, we're talking to them about who Nationwide is and that are working for a company that has a noble purpose. Because I think all of us want to work someplace that we feel proud to say, "Hey, I did this and it had that impact." So it resonates with our millennials. We give back to our communities, that resonates with our millennials. We know that millennials like to be involved with a lot of ... They like to learn. So what we find is that we create many different opportunities for them to learn. We have a learning culture. We understand the power of mentorship because we know we're going to turn this company over. We spend time ensuring that the millennials understand that the top of the house and that the leaders understand the role they will play in the future.
Chris: How are you recognizing a job well done or how are you recognizing a stellar performance individually?
Gale King: We do it in so many different ways. Certainly, we do it at the frontline level. One of the things, if you've read anything about me or Nationwide in general, we believe that leadership matters and that at the end of the day, every leader plays an important role with creating an environment for our associates. So we really encourage leaders to recognize associates in the manner in which the associate wants to be recognized. We certainly believe in competitive pay. We believe in opportunities. We do a lot of recognition because we think that's important to our associates.
Chris: Are you ever directly involved with recognition?
Gale King: Oh, absolutely. I mean-
Chris: Can you give me an example of a recent thing that happened where you called out someone for a great job?
Gale King: Oh, my goodness. I do that in every meeting. So I just had my staff meeting last week with my direct reports, and these are all senior leaders and at that meeting, we bring in their teams whenever they're giving a presentation. Because I think it's important for us to hear from the next level down. And at that particular meeting, Nationwide was just recognized as one of the top four. Yeah, by the Training 125.
Chris: Oh, congratulations.
Gale King: And so Cathy Smith, who leads that area, was in the meeting. We took a moment and we gave her a big round of applause. We do that at every meeting, is to pause and to thank people for the work that they do. In fact, not only did I thank her when she was in our meeting, there was an article that was in the Columbus Dispatch. I forwarded that communication to the entire HR organization and congratulated her. So what we did is we celebrated the fact that this associate had made a difference for our company. It felt good for her and it's so good for all of the people who worked on that particular project.
Chris: I wanted to talk a bit more about diversity and inclusion, which is an area that Nationwide excels in obviously, by being on our 100 best Workplaces for Diversity. When did it become part of the daily conversation? And being part of the conversation, I'm talking about top leadership.
Gale King: Yeah. So what I would say when I described Nationwide's culture to people, I talk about it being a culture that cares about people and that everything we do is really based on our values. So the caring is really important. But I also talk about the fact that it's a company that's very dynamic and by dynamic I mean it's adaptable. So when I joined the company, as you know, diversity and inclusion probably was not a topic that people were talking a lot about. But I'm proud to say that as the world changed, that our company was adaptable and willing to change to meet what was going on in the external world, and the needs of the people joining our company.
Gale King: But when I would tell you, and from a diversity and perspective, our CEO, the current CEO, Steve Rasmussen, was named CEO in 2009 and one of the things that was right after 2008 with the great recession and all of the challenges when he came in, I remember vividly the conversation he had was that he understood that we had this wonderful culture that we could leverage even more if we could get every associate engaged with the success of the company. And so that was, in his strategy, he had a five-prong strategy, but one part of that, the first one was really around people and engagement. We sat down, and that included diversity and inclusion, so that was just part of what our strategy was about. And so it just became a conversation. It became part of our updates. It became part of our DNA in terms of our conversations.
Chris: And how did that make you feel at that moment?
Gale King: I mean, I've always been proud of Nationwide for being willing to do what is right for our people and for our members. And certainly I knew our CEO and I knew our board has always been committed to doing the right thing as it relates to all of our people. So I was good to see that additional focus, but that was what I expected.
Chris: Okay. And so I'm assuming that 35 years ago there were not very many people of color at the tops of-
Gale King: I think you're absolutely right.
Chris: I mean, who was your role model then?
Gale King: As I look around, probably when I first joined the company, it was your frontline manager. And that's why leadership matters. It's so important to have people that you can look up and you can feel really proud of and you can see yourself, you can say, "Okay, I can be this person." So when I joined Nationwide in, as a claims' adjuster, I was reporting to an African American female who was a manager. And that was 35 years ago. I still stay in contact with her today. And then I remembered in claims, I mean even back then there were many men, but there were many women who had progressed into management roles. Now, they were not at the top of the house, but from where I was, I could see next and I could see myself at the next level.
Chris: Great. And what today are you doing to inspire and serve as a role model to a number of the youngest workers in your own team?
Gale King: I think what I do every day in terms of having a culture that says that every associate matters and that when they look around our company, they see themselves no matter who they are. I think that that plays a major role. I think that I mentor a lot of people. I'm involved with a lot of things that African Americans are concerned about, Hispanic Americans are concerned about LBGTQ. I try very hard to represent the entire organization and I think it works for us.
Chris: And you also have scored 100% on Human Rights Campaigns.
Gale King: LBGTQ, yes, we are so very proud of that. Yes.
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Chris: I know, that's a great honor. So beyond the headcount and when you're looking at-
Gale King: Beyond representation?
Chris: Yeah, just a head count just in terms of the impact of diversity. How else do you measure it?
Gale King: Again, it's a feeling. One of the things that I always observe, I always eat in the cafeteria. So it's where I'm one of these people that, I typically, I don't like to have to drive out and because it adds to my lunch hour. But I love going down to the cafeteria and having either picking up lunch or having lunch. What you can tell about anything you eat, like here at Great Place To Work, you feel this wonderful energy, and you see people excited and passionate about being here. To me, that's a measure of our company. So how are our associates walking the hall? How are they feeling about it?
Gale King: We measure how they're feeling about being a part of Nationwide. We look at our retention. We look at our engagement results. We look at how involved are they would things that matter to Nationwide such as our community impact. We do so many things with Feed America, with Red Cross and so many different things. We measure all of those things to see whether or not our people are engaged. So we have an annual campaign to support our community through United Way. You can get a sense whether our associates are connected with you by whether or not they're engaged with that. The Feed America campaign, whether or not they're engaged with those programs. So we measure it through everything that touches the associate.
Chris: Tying diversity back to innovation, how is it that you're able to inspire and live this innovation by all mission when you're looking at the talent or the skills from people who wouldn't necessarily be represented largely across the organization. How do you inspire everybody to at least have a say or feel they're welcome to innovate?
Gale King: Yeah. Because everything begins with do you feel included? So if I feel included, I feel safe. If I feel included, I trust you. And if I feel safe and I trust you, then I feel I can ask questions, I can give opinions, I can challenge you. And so I think that the investment that Nationwide has made and has made in an engaging culture, allows us to innovate because our associates trust us to do it.
Chris: Was there one particular event in your life in your career where you realize that culture was the only way forward for the success of the company?
Gale King: I think I've always felt that way. I mean, it's a really good question, but as I think back over my career, I think that every win that Nationwide has had has been because we've had amazing talented people who are committed to the success of our company. And that when we have had anything that did not work, it happened because we had not invested right in the right people. So to me, it's always been a talent game and the talent game is what has allowed us to win.
Chris: And what has been your biggest challenge in your current role that you turned into an opportunity?
Gale King: Yeah. I get asked that question all the time. It's just like they ask that question because I've been around so long. For me, it's probably been patience. And having to remind myself that it's a step-by-step game and that if you continue to do step-by-step, you will eventually arrive where you need to arrive and just stay the course. And sometimes, I think people, we get challenged where we want to get to the end a little sooner. So I've had to learn patience over the years.
Chris: How have you learned it? Do you find yourself forcing yourself to remain calm or to not set the same expectations on others that you put for yourself?
Gale King: What happened was, I had a young associate, n this happened many, many years ago when I lived in Memphis, is that she helped me understand is that everybody really wants to do the right thing. They just need a little more, some people need a little more time. And that when I look at people, if I can sometimes look beyond what I want and look at who they are then I can take the time. I realized that some people take a little longer to load in what they need to change and so it works for me. I want, when we get to wherever we're going, wherever our destination is, I want everyone to be on board. And if you try to force it, it won't sustain itself. And so I know that. That's how I learned it. I know that I want at the end of the day, that it's sustainable and that people own it. It's not just something that Gale wants or the senior leaders want. It's something for all.
Chris: And if you had a chance to go back and talk to yourself back in the day when you first started at Nationwide, what would you tell that person?
Gale King: I tell people this all the time. I was so heads down when I first started, I was determined that I would be the very best. And so I was head down and I had to learn how to look up and realize that work is about not only what you get done, it's about how it's done and it's about making sure that you're paying attention to your environment. So I tell people always is, "Get the work done, but look up and look around and make sure you're reading and understanding what's going on, how to add more value. How to help more people and what you can do to be even more impactful." So I tell people that all the time. It took me a while.
Chris: What was the best advice somebody else gave you?
Gale King: It was to lead. So I was, remember, I shared with you that I had been very much about getting it done. I mean, that was my brand, "You want something done, Gale will get it done." And my first management job, I moved into the job working for a leader and I had a team. What I was trying to do when I moved into this job leading people from an individual contributor role was to still be an individual contributor with a team of people. And many people do that. And this leader I, and to this day, I think of him, he said to me, "Gale, we're no longer paying you to be the individual contributor. We're paying you to lead people."
Gale King: And it freed me to know that I had moved to a different level. And as you climb in corporate America or in any place, you have to take on new skills as you move up the ladder. And I learned from him the power of giving people the freedom to make mistakes. It's what we talk about, about what engages people is they own it. They will deliver a better product than you can every time trying to do the work of 10 people yourself.
Chris: In what ways are you helping inspire everyone across the organization to help as a team become a better workplace?
Gale King: Yeah. I think I try to model that every day with how I treat people. I make it a point to recognize people. I make it a point to acknowledge people. I make it a point to talk with them, to talk with our associates, to talk with our leaders. To understand what is needed for Nationwide to be the best place that it can be. I give back in terms of my time. I mentor young people. I'm involved in our community. I'm involved with the Columbus Women's Commission where I'm able to share some of the best practices and the insights that certainly I've learned at Nationwide. I'm involved with organizations like Great Place To Work. I'm involved with Catalysts, I am involved with so many things in which I'm able to speak from my own experiences personally, as well as professionally. And I think that we all have that accountability to give back and to speak in and share our truths.
Chris: Great, Gale, that's very great. Thank you. Thanks for joining us at Better Great Place to Work.
Gale King: It's my pleasure. And thank you for recognizing Nationwide.
Chris: Of course.
Gale King: Thank you.
Chris: Thank you.
Chief Content Officer, Great Place to Work
Chief Administrative Officer at Nationwide