How can meaningful acts of recognition and gratitude change the way you do business? According to David Novak, Executive Chairman of Yum! Brands, small gestures can go a long way in keeping your operation running smoothly and your employees engaged.

Hear more from David Novak during his education session, Great Work: Fixing the Global Recognition Deficit, on Sunday, May 22, at NRA Show.

Acts of recognition and gratitude don’t have to be huge sweeping proclamations or awards. What do you think the most effective and powerful forms of recognition are?

David Novak: I agree, small gestures can go a long way! Simply taking the time to say “thank you” isn’t hardand is freeand doing it in a way that’s personal and genuine is really important.


In fact, according to a yet-to-be-released study conducted for OGO Enterprises which I plan to share more about during my NRA Show presentation, the most common way Americans recognize others at home, work, and among friends is by simply spending quality time with them. And when asked for the one thing people would like to be recognized for, the majority said their personality traitsthings like being kind or thoughtful, loyal, helpful, dependable, compassionate, and happy, just to name a few.


Millennials get a lot of flack for needing constant praise. How can we change the narrative to align with the need for global recognition?

DN: I’ve found through my career no matter where I was in the world or regardless of someone’s age or title, recognition is something people crave and need in every stage. People are looking to be recognized for what they do and if we can acknowledge people and celebrate successes and along the way, it will go a long way to help combat the global recognition deficit.   


Interestingly, that new study conducted for OGO Enterprises shows Millennials are just as likely as older Americans who wish they were recognized more by the others. And, recognition isn’t taken lightly among Millennials82% say they’ve kept a recognition memento they’ve received in their past and nearly 9 in 10 Millennials indicate they could do more to recognize the people in their lives. To me, these stats support what I saw leading Yum! across the worldrecognition really sticks with people and we not only want to receive recognition but want help figuring out how to recognize others, too.   


We’ve all been there—wishing we could have more recognition for the hard work we do. What was your “a-ha!” moment about this that led you to advocate for it?

DN: Early in my career, I had an experience that changed how I thought about my own role as a leader and inspired me to advocate for global recognition. When I was working for PepsiCo I traveled to various plants to meet with people and understand how things worked. During a roundtable with route salesmen in St. Louis, I asked what I thought was a pretty straightforward question about merchandising. In response, everyone I asked began raving about a guy named Bob and his expertise in the area. When I engaged Bob to learn more from him I also shared that others thought he had the most insights to the topic.  Then I looked over at Bob, thinking he must be thrilled by all the praise, but instead saw he was crying. I asked what was wrong and he said, “I’ve been at this company for 47 years and I’m retiring in two weeks and didn’t know people really felt this way about me.”


I walked away from that interaction feeling uneasy; it was a shame Bob didn’t feel appreciated and it was also a missed opportunity for the business as others could have benefited from his expertise if it had been recognized. I also knew if he felt underappreciated and overlooked others probably did too. After that, I dedicated myself to make it a point to recognize people for the impact. It was an “ah-ha” moment that truly impacted my career from then forward.   


In the restaurant industry, what are some easy opportunities operators can take advantage of to build up these positive relationships and practices?

DN: I know people in the industry work hard – they need to know and be recognized by their co-workers and leaders for their efforts through recognition. Earlier when I was leading KFC we would recognize excellence in fun ways like giving people a rubber chicken, or when I was leading Pizza Hut with ‘cheese heads’ like you see Packers fan wear. At Yum! I’ve recognized people with chattering teeth – all fun and personal ways I let others how much I appreciate them.


There are numerous ways operators can build positive relationships and create a culture of recognition within their restaurants – and those methods should be tailored to the specific company or situation. Those might range from regular weekly awards for employees for excellent performance, to recognition for random acts accomplished – as long as it’s done, the format doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they are sincere and personalized.


I firmly believeand have seen the resultsif you can create an environment for doing great things you are going to get better results. To some that might sound a little corny but it’s notrecognition efforts can drive positive results. While it applies to any industry I believe in a customer-centric industry like the restaurant and food space, it’s absolutely vital.


Looking back on your career, how has this “global recognition deficit” impacted you?

DN: Getting people to appreciate the power of recognition is a true passion of mine.  During my career, I was able to create a culture where making a difference is a top priority and what I believe is our ‘secret weapon’ for success. I’ve always viewed being a leader as a privilege and throughout my career I’ve seen firsthand how unleashing the power of recognition can impact people and businesses alike in a positive way.  I believe recognition has a huge impact for people both in and outside work and if you neglect it, you’re missing out. As I look toward retirement from Yum!, I’m not going to sit still but instead going to focus on getting people to engage in recognition. In fact, I have a new book written as a fun parable about the fictional Happy Face Toy Company which highlights how recognition can make a difference, called O Great One; A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition. I think NRA Show attendees will really enjoy!