Nike, Inc.

Product Creation Immersion Program
August 2003-present

Situation

As a global organization, Nike, Inc. must coordinate geographically dispersed employees, partners, and suppliers to successfully design, manufacture, and market athletic footwear, apparel, and equipment. This international effort spans continents and cultures—a challenge that can result in inefficiencies if parties lack an understanding of processes and customs.

“We were dealing with interesting cross-cultural and interpersonal dynamics, with some strong feelings that the others just ‘didn’t get it,’” says Robert Conradt, Product Creation Director for Men’s Performance Running for Nike. “We needed a program to address not only the differences between the various Asian cultures and American culture, but also the difference between standard business culture and Nike’s business culture.”

To bridge that gap, Nike decided to establish a program that enables footwear developers from several of its Asian footwear factories to spend time working directly with the appropriate designers and developers at the Nike World Campus in Beaverton, Oregon. The company also realized that it needed to find a way to help the Asian participants adjust to life in the United States.

The Approach

Nike turned to Ann Marie Lei to develop an ongoing program for cultural preparation to help ease the transition as the developers from five Asian countries began their seven-month stint in the United States. Since August 2003, Ann Marie has facilitated an annual course that centers around life and culture, effective communication styles, general business understanding, and a specific understanding of Nike’s corporate culture and values. Content even includes social etiquette and a crash course on American sports—considered essential knowledge at Nike.

The Results

Nike has found that the personal interaction and understanding gained about each culture’s practices and assumptions benefits all participants, not just the visiting developers. “We’re seeing a dramatic difference in how our U.S. staff members behave,” says Conradt. “Their actions are more informed by cultural differences, and so they’re more strategic in planning and carrying out their interactions with the other locations.”

Ann Marie has helped everyone involved draw connections between what they learn in the program and how to translate it into daily business practices, giving them tools and techniques to get things done better and faster.

“We’re seeing a lot more clarity around the U.S. developers’ written communications, with far fewer idioms and more care in defining what they’re asking for,” says Conradt. “They’re also picking up the phone more after learning that many of their Asian counterparts place higher value on establishing personal relationships in business.”

The highly interactive, hands-on program helps participants pinpoint some of the frustration and miscommunication that they had experienced in prior dealings. “Ann Marie is really helping us round out this cultural piece. She has great personal and professional insight, and she truly understands the issues involved,” says Conradt. “She’s the perfect package for us in terms of moving this project forward.”