Community//

David Novak: “Show me a good business and I’ll show you a good leader”

Use purposeful recognition to drive results and have fun doing it. Now when it comes to recognition, remember it must be purposeful to have any credibility. I’m always on the lookout for people who are really doing their job well so I can let them know I’m watching. I believe there’s great power in having […]


Use purposeful recognition to drive results and have fun doing it. Now when it comes to recognition, remember it must be purposeful to have any credibility. I’m always on the lookout for people who are really doing their job well so I can let them know I’m watching. I believe there’s great power in having fun with recognition. When I became President of KFC, I had the chance to make recognition of the driving force in our company. And I wanted to find a recognition award to show people just how passionate I was about recognizing other people… something that would break through the clutter. The solution? A floppy chicken! I would number it, write about the specific action the person did and how it tied to a behavior that would drive results. And I would present the floppy chicken to the person. When I became President of Pizza Hut, I gave away a Cheese Head, and when I became CEO of Yum! Brands, I gave away Walk the Talk Teeth. What I found is there’s nothing like making your recognition really personal and from the heart. I have to admit, I’m a floppy chicken sort of guy and I realize that may not be your cup of tea. But figure out what yours is…personal one on ones, calling people together in a huddle and recognizing someone, writing handwritten notes, making phone calls out of the blue, or simply saying thank you every chance you get. Find the way that fits your personality but most of all, do it! It’s a tremendous privilege of leadership.


As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Novak. He is Founder and CEO of oGoLead, a digital leadership development platform he created to help people become better leaders by teaching vital Heartwiring® and Hardwiring® skills. He is Co-Founder, retired Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM), one of the world’s largest restaurant companies with over 45,000 restaurants in more than 135 countries and territories. He retired in 2016. Novak’s passion is to make the world a better place by developing leaders at all ages through oGoLead, his family’s Lift-a-Life Foundation, Lead2Feed, Global Game Changers and The Novak Leadership Institute at the University of Missouri. A renowned expert on leadership and recognition culture, Novak is also a bestselling leadership book author. His highly respected and critically acclaimed books include The New York Times bestseller Taking People With You, The Only Way to Achieve Big Things, The Education of an Accidental CEO, Lessons Learned from the Trailer Park to the Corner Office and his latest parable, O GREAT ONE! A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition. Yum! Brands include KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, the global leaders of the chicken, pizza and Mexican-style food categories. Yum! Brands employ 1.5 million company employees and franchise associates across its worldwide system. Outside the United States, the Yum! Brands system opened over six new restaurants per day on average, making it a leader in global retail development. During his tenure as CEO, Yum! Brands doubled in size to 41,000 restaurants and established itself as a global powerhouse going from approximately 20 percent of its profits coming from outside the United States in 1997 to nearly 70 percent in 2016, while remaining an industry leader in return on invested capital. In so doing, Yum! Brands’ compound annual shareholder return has been 16 percent and its market capitalization has grown to nearly 32 billion dollars from just over 4 billion dollars. Novak was also the architect of spinning off Yum! China as an independent public company as its largest licensee. In so doing, Yum Brands is now almost wholly owned and operated by franchisees. Prior to leading Yum! Brands, Novak was President at both KFC and Pizza Hut, and held senior management positions at Pepsi-Cola Company, including Chief Operating Officer, and Executive Vice President of Marketing and Sales. Novak has been recognized as “2012 CEO of the Year” by Chief Executive magazine, one of the world’s “30 Best CEOs” by Barron’s, one of the “Top People in Business” by FORTUNE and one of the “100 Best-Performing CEOs in the World” by Harvard Business Review. He received the prestigious 2015 Horatio Alger Award for his commitment to philanthropy and higher education and became a lifetime member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. He is the recipient of the 2012 UN World Food Program Leadership Award for Yum! Brands World Hunger Relief effort that raised awareness, volunteerism, and funds to address the global problem. He also received the national 2008 Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was a mediocre and uninspired college student, but that all changed when I took a course in advertising. I absolutely loved advertising and learning about consumer insights and that inspired me to learn everything I could about it. This passion launched me into a career path of advertising and marketing and I never looked back.

I’ve called my career path accidental in the past because I never expected to be a CEO, but in retrospect, the journey I took was no accident. You never really know what you’re capable of when you find your passion, love what you do, and do whatever it takes to achieve your goals. That’s my story.

One thing that helped me succeed was always being on the lookout for the next job — one with more responsibility — and my competitive nature would drive me to do whatever it took to get that position. This passion and drive allowed me to move up the ranks — and incredibly to CEO of Yum! Brands.

My advice to aspiring leaders is to find what you love, pursue it with passion, be ambitious and proactive, and most importantly, be an avid learner. This is a sure way to differentiate yourself and achieve your career goals. You never know what you’re capable of when passion is the fuel that drives you.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Early in my career, I had an experience that changed how I thought about my own role as a leader and inspired me to accomplish what, for me, is my greatest example of taking people with you. I was working for PepsiCo at the time, making my way up through the ranks and had recently become head of operations for Pepsi Bottling. I had held mainly marketing positions until then, so operations was a new world for me. One of the first things I did was travel to our various plants to meet with the people there and find out more about how things work.

I was at a plant in St. Louis, conducting a 6:00 AM roundtable meeting with a group of route salesmen, when, over coffee and doughnuts, I asked what I thought was a pretty straightforward question about merchandising, which is all about the displays and visibility we get in convenience and grocery stores. I wanted to know what they thought was working and what wasn’t. Right away, someone piped up, “Bob is the expert in that area. He can tell you how it’s done.” Someone else added, “Bob taught me more in one day that I’d learned in two years on the job.” Every single person in the room agreed: Bob was the best there was. I looked over at Bob, thinking he must be thrilled by all this praise. Instead, I saw that he had tears running down his face. When I asked him what was wrong, Bob, who had been with the company for forty-seven years and was about to retire in just two weeks, said, “I never knew anyone felt this way about me.”

This absolutely hit me in the gut and from that moment on, I decided as a leader, I was going to make recognition the single biggest behavior I would emphasize with whatever team I lead. Little did I know that I had stumbled on the biggest key to creating a powerful culture, driving engagement and generating great results.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’ve started a new company called oGoLead with the mission to make the world a better place by developing better leaders. We offer all kinds of free content as well as online digital leadership training. I’m personally having a blast hosting podcasts I post every two weeks. I’ve done over 60, with leaders like Jamie Dimon (JPMorganChase), Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Ken Langone (Home Depot), Gary Kelly (Southwest Airlines) and Tom Brady (New England Patriots). I’ve always loved best practice visits and learning from others, so the preparation and interviews with my guests keep me pumped up and attacking life every day.

I also love sharing the good, bad and ugly of my leadership journey in our Essential Leadership Traits and our upcoming Purposeful Recognition: The Secret to Achieving Great Results digital training programs.

The sad fact is so many people are promoted into leadership roles without any training on how to lead well. This is a big miss because building people capability is the biggest factor to getting good results. I’ve always said, “Show me a good business and I’ll show you a good leader.” I’ve never seen sustainable results happen without it. The training and resources we offer are designed to bridge this training gap. Go to OgoLead.com and check it out.

Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

The story I told about Bob hits the nail on the head. I know for a fact that workers are unhappy because there’s a tremendous lack of recognition in the world today and it’s a huge problem. I call it the global recognition deficit.
 
 My company, oGoLead, fielded national research and listen to this:
 — 82% of employees feel their supervisor doesn’t recognize them for what they do
 — 60% say they are more motivated by recognition than money
 — 56% want more recognition by their supervisor
 — 43% want more from their colleagues
 — 40% say that recognition at work makes them put more energy into their work
 
 And sadly, recognition happens at work once every two months if you’re lucky.
 
 Yet, research time and time again has also proven that recognition is not just soft stuff, it drives hard results.
 
 There are two major reasons why people leave a company and it’s rarely about money: 1) they don’t feel appreciated for what they do and 2) they don’t get along with their boss, which comes back to the lack of relationship and appreciation and frankly leadership. 
 
 The fact of the matter is almost everyone loves recognition but managers, and especially first-time supervisors are just not very good at doing it the right way. Unbelievably, there’s no training that I know of on how to recognize in a purposeful way. I have witnessed first-hand it’s the power to create a happy workforce.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

It’s the same answer for all three. An unhappy workforce has a negative impact on productivity, profitability and employee health and wellbeing. Seriously, anyone who thinks happy people are not better than unhappy people at making a company flourish needs to have their head examined. I sure as heck wouldn’t want to work for him or her and I doubt if anyone else would either.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

#1. Create a culture where everyone counts. When I became CEO of Yum! Brands, we did best practice visits with the highest and most consistent performing companies at the time, like Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, CocaCola, Target and General Electric. Our goal was to discover the keys to their success. The single most important thing that all these companies talked about was culture and how every individual on the team makes a difference. They shared the common belief if you were good enough to have a job in the company, you should be treated with respect and valued for what you do. It doesn’t matter if you run a function or work on the assembly line, you count and if everyone does their job well, the team wins.

#2. People come to work for a purpose. The people who work for you don’t want to be part of something mediocre. They want to be part of something great! Define your noble cause by deciding how you enrich the lives of others. Then, make sure everyone understands your noble cause and relates their job back to it.

At Yum! Brands, our passion was to put a Yum! on our customers’ faces around the world. Our goal was to make people happy with our food. This was something everyone could relate to and unite around because it made so much common sense. Happy customers will come to you again and again.

#3. The more you know, the more you care. Communication is so critical in business. As a leader, you have to share information — your sales, profits, customer satisfaction scores, culture survey results — with everyone. It can be tempting to hoard information, but remember, people, appreciate knowing what’s going on. And the more the better. Think about it — when you’re on a sports team, you want to know what the score is. It’s the same at work. Cascading your results and sharing both the opportunities and challenges with everyone shows that you trust your team and it inspires them to care more about your organization. That’s why I published blogs with pictures whenever I went on field trips because I wanted people to see and learn about what was going on around the world.

#4. Use purposeful recognition to drive results and have fun doing it. Now when it comes to recognition, remember it must be purposeful to have any credibility. I’m always on the lookout for people who are really doing their job well so I can let them know I’m watching.

I believe there’s great power in having fun with recognition. When I became President of KFC, I had the chance to make recognition of the driving force in our company. And I wanted to find a recognition award to show people just how passionate I was about recognizing other people… something that would break through the clutter. The solution? A floppy chicken! I would number it, write about the specific action the person did and how it tied to a behavior that would drive results. And I would present the floppy chicken to the person. When I became President of Pizza Hut, I gave away a Cheese Head, and when I became CEO of Yum! Brands, I gave away Walk the Talk Teeth. What I found is there’s nothing like making your recognition really personal and from the heart.
 
 I have to admit, I’m a floppy chicken sort of guy and I realize that may not be your cup of tea. But figure out what yours is…personal one on ones, calling people together in a huddle and recognizing someone, writing handwritten notes, making phone calls out of the blue, or simply saying thank you every chance you get. Find the way that fits your personality but most of all, do it! It’s a tremendous privilege of leadership.

#5. Create shared experiences that bind everyone together. At Yum!, we were so passionate about our culture that we created the Yum! Experience to train all new hires on our How We Work Together Principles. This four-day experiential training program included engaging exercises we learned from one of the foremost experts on creating a powerful culture, Larry Senn. We used the Mood Elevator to teach about Positive Energy, Broken Squares to teach about Teamwork, and the Accountability Ladder to teach about Accountability. We took this training around the world.

If culture is important enough, you will put the process and discipline around it. The Yum! Experience was essential to creating a work environment where we lived out our values. We not only trained on our values, but we also used our How We Work Together Principles as part of our performance appraisal process. We didn’t just care about the results people achieved, we cared about how people got the results too.

When you create a culture where your employees feel appreciated, valued and inspired, you get better results. People start doing things because they want to, not because they have to. Your culture is what separates you from all other organizations.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

The first responsibility of leadership is to define reality. You’ve got to do your research to discover what the biggest problems are in the country and then innovate around them. I believe that one of the biggest problems is there are not enough leaders. And I’m not alone. The research you referenced in this article shows there’s a lack of management training, people leave because of bad bosses, and there’s a recognition deficit too.

I think leadership training is the key to making a positive difference in the world. According to Gallup Research, only 30% of the workforce is engaged — that’s a huge problem! We can make the world a better place by training people on how to become the best leader they can be.

You and I both know from experience that a leader can make or break a person’s day. Leaders are responsible for creating an environment where people want to come to work… or where people hate coming to work. And unless we start teaching people how to lead, things won’t change. I believe change is possible and that’s why I’m committed to scaling my leadership coaching through oGoLead.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I’m a people-first coach who loves to have fun recognizing people who have earned it. While leading Yum! Brands, our formula for success was People Capability First, Satisfied Customers and Profitability Follow. Too many leaders start out by focusing on profitability instead of focusing on the true key to making money: people.

I built people’s capability at Yum! Brands by teaching my Taking People With You program to over 4,000 leaders around the world. Taking People With You taught our leaders how to engage and involve their teams, be authentic, and use process and discipline to drive better results. And then I wrote the Taking People With You book and had it translated in eight different languages so that we could scale the learning up and down our organization, as well as help leaders in other industries.

And now, I’m dedicating my life to building the people’s capability of our next generation of aspiring leaders. I believe CEOs have all kinds of experiences that when shared, help others become the best leader they can be. Keeping these experiences to yourself is selfish. My mission in life is to share the good, bad and ugly of my experiences to empower and equip leaders to make a positive difference in the world. This is my passion.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I can’t just say one person here.. I have four: my dad, my mom, my wife Wendy and Andy Pearson.

My dad raised the bar on me and taught me how to be a good coach. He set the standards high and expected me to reach them. An example is my dad was my Little League Baseball coach. If I hit two home runs in a game, he’d coach me on making better throws. He loved helping kids reach their potential and that rubbed off on me.

My mom was always by my side growing up since my dad traveled a lot like a government surveyor. We moved a lot because of my dad’s job (I lived in 23 states by the time I was 12 years old), so I was enrolled in a new school every few months. My Mom would check me into the new school and say, “David, you better make friends in a hurry because we’re leaving.” That’s how I quickly learned to size people up and figure out who the good ones were and who I should avoid. I think this experience really helped me develop a good gut instinct when it comes to assessing people and talent, which is an invaluable leadership skill. My mom is my biggest champion and encourager. In fact, I learned about the power of recognition from my mom.

My wife, Wendy, inspires me every day. She was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she was seven years old, and yet she never complains and has this amazing positive spirit. She is also very wise and tells me what I need to know… even if I don’t want to hear it.

From a business perspective, Andy Pearson impacted my success as a leader. He was my best friend when he died at 80 years old. Andy’s resume is pretty hard to beat including President of PepsiCo and teacher at Harvard Business School before he co-founded Yum! Brands with me. Andy was known for being one of the toughest bosses around so his tremendous belief in me gave me incredible confidence. He took me under his wing, opened doors for me, and I soaked up his wisdom from the vast experience he so willingly shared.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The mission of our family foundation, Lift a Life, is to help those in need to achieve their full potential. Our goal is to fund innovative, high-impact projects that are led by passionate leaders committed to outstanding execution. We focus on making a difference in the areas of:

· Student leadership development

· Juvenile diabetes (type 1 diabetes)

· Hunger relief

· Early childhood education

· Military family support

I’m particularly focused on the initiatives we are driving to develop leaders in all levels of education. We created Lead2Feed, the largest and fastest-growing privately funded leadership service program for middle and high schools in the United States. We’ve taught over one million kids the past five years. We also created the Novak Leadership Institute at the University of Missouri where we are striving to set the standard for collegiate leadership education. Both these initiatives are based on the principles of Taking People With You.

And most recently, we have partnered with Global Game Changers to teach leadership skills in elementary schools by helping kids realize their gifts, put their heart into it and make it their super power. As you can tell, we believe leadership can be taught and are dedicated to teaching it across the board.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Jack Byrum, an image coach, once told me, “Don’t look up. Don’t look down. Always look straight ahead when dealing with people.” I love this because it is a powerful way to say treat everyone equally. It reminded me when I was coming up to respect my bosses and people of power, but don’t treat them reverentially and put them on a pedestal versus other people. And even more importantly, never, ever think you’re better than anyone and always treat those under you with equal respect and dignity.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is easy for me. I’m working on this every day. I would inspire a leadership movement where effective leadership skills are taught in every school — from elementary school to colleges all across this great nation. Students would learn to respect and value people from day one and know the best process to involve others to get results.

Though my work with Global Game Changers, Lead2Feed, Novak Leadership Institute and now oGoLead, we’re striving to create some sparks that will light the fire. Imagine what would happen if this country was more passionate about developing leaders. Imagine work environments where everyone counts and wants to make a positive difference. Leadership skills can help people to achieve the American Dream, and I want to do my part to make that dream come true for as many people as I can.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“How to develop resilience ask someone for something, even if you think they will say no” With Tyler Gallagher & Sean Harper

by Tyler Gallagher
Community//

5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce: With Corrie LoGiudice

by Ross Garcia
Community//

Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military: “Don’t seek recognition” with Taylor Cole and Chaya Weiner

by Yitzi Weiner at Authority Magazine

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.