How Nike Company Culture Does Gratitude Well (And You Can Too)

Do you feel appreciated at work? Are you wondering how to let your team know how much you value them? Pam Johnson, 4word’s COO and former Nike executive, talks about the important role regular gratitude has played in her life and her career and shares how Nike leadership mastered the simple art of expressing gratitude and appreciation to Nike employees.

Don’t have time to read this blog? Listen to it below!

How was the concept of gratitude taught to you when you were growing up? 

I was blessed to have a father who loved the Lord dearly, and although life took precarious and difficult turns for our family, my dad’s heart and soul always remained true to God. My dad started taking us to church when I was ten years old. Two years later he decided we should sing a duo during worship service (this was long before professionals adorned the worship stage). We chose “To God Be the Glory” by Andre Crouch. This song has stayed in my heart and mind ever since, and when I feel overly joyful or burdened or just need to pass the time on an afternoon bike ride, it comes easily and often:

How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me?
Things so undeserved yet you gave to prove your love for me,
the voices of a million angels cannot express my gratitude.
All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to thee.
To God be the glory for the things he has done!
Just let me live my life, let it pleasing Lord to thee.
And if I gain any praise let it go to Calvary.
With his blood he has saved me,
with his power he has raised me,
to God be the glory for the things he has done!

As you began your career and had the opportunity to work at Nike, was it hard to stay humble and grateful while you were surrounded by achievement-driven work environments? 

I always told my sales team that we had the greatest jobs in the company. Yes, the Nike sales team was full of high-achieving, driven leaders—the best in the industry. And we moved a lot of mountains and sold a lot of shoes. But our team was family first! Like most sales teams, we had an annual Sales Recognition event that recognized teams and individuals, and what an event it was. The leadership team invested heavily to ensure that every employee on the team (over 500 people) felt rewarded, appreciated, and respected for their hard work throughout the year. They understood the exponential benefits—to the organization, our customers and our consumers—if all employees were appreciated and recognized. It was a non-negotiable part of leadership. Each year we chose a different philanthropy supporting teammates and their families facing unprecedented health challenges. Today, twenty-five years later, my Nike family and teammates remain true friends. 

Should executives and managers prioritize gratitude when building their team culture?

A new survey by the Society of Human Resource Management shows that employee recognition and engagement are key to retaining good employees. And, according to the research conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, 64% of Americans who leave their jobs do so because they don’t feel appreciated. In his book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Gary Chapman writes “something deep within the human psyche cries out for appreciation. When that need is unmet, employee satisfaction declines.” Steven Covey felt so strongly about this that he stated “next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, affirmed, valued and appreciated.”  

A Glass door survey found four out of five employees (81%) say they are “motivated” to work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work. Employee engagement has been found to be three times more strongly related to intrinsic motivators that extrinsic rewards, and intrinsic motivation is a stronger predictor of job performance.

The list of fact-based research on the overall impact of employee engagement as a result of gratitude and appreciation is extensive. But the key is to recognize employees in a way that is valued to them. The recognition and gratitude have to be meaningful.

How do you practice regular gratitude in your life?

Every morning (like most of us now), I have series of devotionals and resources that I start my day with (Rick Warren’s Daily Hope, Jesus Calling, 365 Days of Prayer). Setting aside time for a personal moment with God—especially in the morning before going about your day—allows you a personal connection with God. During these times, you have the chance to exalt and affirm God for who He is and give thanks for what He has done for you and for what blessings He has in store for you. Through this, you have this moment of being intimate with God where it is only you and Him. David made mention of these in His Psalms, setting time in prayer during the morning to lay his cares and wait for God’s answer (Psalm 5:3). Jesus also held an example where, early in His ministry, He took a moment to pray in a solitary place (Mark 1:35). And, according to the Mayo Clinic, a daily practice of gratitude and counting your blessings has been shown to significantly increase your happiness and your physical health, and practicing gratitude can boost your immunity and decrease your risk of disease (without a pill)!

Most of my friends know that I am a lover of the great outdoors. Part of my daily routine of gratitude is to begin each day with a brisk walk in God’s beautiful planet. When I open the front door, breathe the fresh air into my lungs, and gaze at the beauty around me, I am eternally grateful for all that God has done. To God be the glory!

Pam brings a twenty-four-year career at Nike, Inc. to 4word, most recently serving as Global Strategic Account Business Director on the Foot Locker, Inc. sales team. Her strong finance, strategic planning, and operational leadership with best in class global sales experience will be a tremendous benefit to our organization. Prior to Nike, Pam held various Financial Management positions with Mentor Graphics, US Bank, and United Technologies.