A Champion for All Employees

This article accompanies This HR Executive of the Year is Transforming IBM.

For Gale King, the key to solving the employee-happiness equation ultimately comes down to just two variables.

“In the end, people care about whether they feel valued by the organization, and whether they have opportunities to grow with you,” says King, executive vice president and chief HR and chief administrative officer at Nationwide.

“No matter who you are, you want to feel proud about what you do, and you want feel that the company is invested in you,” adds King, who oversees the Columbus, Ohio-based insurance provider’s HR, corporate-real-estate, security and aviation functions, with responsibility for roughly $1.1 billion in operating budget and benefits expenses.

King, who became Nationwide’s CHRO in 2009, has been instrumental in ensuring that employees are engaged and fulfilling their goals. For instance, she instituted an annual engagement survey (which boasts a 98 percent participation rate), periodic pulse surveys and leader scorecards in an effort to better measure engagement and performance. When King arrived, Nationwide’s engagement scores were in the 49th percentile and now sit in the 74th percentile. Over that same time, the company’s revenue grew from $31 billion to $46.5 billion.

Putting Inclusion First

King has helped spearhead programs designed to enable Nationwide employees to build their professional networks and find mentors among the company’s leadership. For example, the company’s Touch Points Program was launched to provide top Nationwide talent with connections to the board of directors, CEO and executive-leadership team.

At the heart of such initiatives is Nationwide’s, and King’s, desire to intertwine diversity and inclusion with professional development.

In 2015, the organization established a formal D&I structure that has grown to include learning initiatives, such as required training on conscious inclusion and inclusive hiring practices. Since 2009, King has helped expand the number of associate-resource groups to 16 within Nationwide, as well as grow to 18 the number of diversity and inclusion business councils, which are designed to support and promote a diverse and inclusive workplace across the business.

King has also been at the forefront of an effort to put more women in leadership roles through development programs, mentoring, sponsorship and transparent job posting. At Nationwide, women currently hold a number of C-level roles, such as chief governance officer, chief compliance officer, chief digital officer and chief technology officer. Overall, women make up 35 percent of the company’s senior-level leader positions.

“We knew that diverse and female leader inclusion would drive enhanced results, but more importantly, we want our associates to see that Nationwide has a culture where all could succeed,” says King, adding that diversity at the “senior-leadership and board-of-director levels also helps attract and retain strong talent.”

The company recently received the Catalyst Award, which recognizes extraordinary efforts to advance women in business. It has also been a recipient of LATINA Style’s Top 50 award, bestowed annually upon companies that the publication deems as the best places for Latinas to work, and earned a spot on the Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work list for LGBT associates for 13 consecutive years.

Tackling Transitions

This award-winning organization, however, was in a transitional phase when King arrived.

In 2009, Nationwide brought in a new CEO. King and her HR team helped lead the company’s subsequent organizational redesign, in addition to serving at the helm of its 2014 implementation of an integrated enterprise-business operating model and its “one company” talent and culture strategy.

This reformation brought 14 company businesses under one brand, and necessitated restructuring the enterprise as part of the transition. The effort to “more efficiently and effectively go to market under one Nationwide brand required major business partnership and leadership by the entire HR team,” says King.

As part of the restructuring effort, the HR team worked closely with business leaders doing the organizational-design work–creating new organization structures, teams and jobs, and was instrumental in helping guide the workforce going through the change. This included one-company culture training, and collaboration, change management and new skills development in order to effectively operate across new businesses, King says.

This undertaking, she adds, required constant communication, as well as change management and culture training, including a series of programs designed to “refresh our values and [reinforce] what it means to be a Nationwider for leaders and associates.”

King’s guidance and efforts during this pivotal transition phase are among the indicators of the steady leadership she’s provided since taking the helm of HR at Nationwide nearly a decade ago, says CEO Steve Rasmussen.

“With responsibility [for] our entire workforce for the past nine years, Gale has, in partnership with the business, moved our company’s culture from typical to extraordinary,” says Rasmussen. “With the disciplined and intentional approach Gale has put in place, Nationwide’s progress as an organization has accelerated dramatically.”

Mark McGraw
Mark McGraw is a freelance writer who has covered human resources for nearly a decade. He lives in the Philadelphia suburbs and earned a bachelor's degree in professional writing from Kutztown University.