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The Power Of Purposeful Recognition with David Novak | Ep. 182

BDD 182 | Purposeful Recognition


Everyone wants to be seen and heard. When people are recognized, they’re going to feel valued, they’re going to feel appreciated, and they will give you back the results you want. Leading people through recognition will always generate positivity in any workspace. David Novak, the Founder, and CEO of oGoLead and the Co-Founder and former CEO of Yum! Brands shares how he got to where he is right now and how he led others to be on a similar level. Coming from a humble background, David never envisioned becoming the Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands and working with a company that has 1.5 million people in it. He shares where he got his people and marketing skills, and dives into the importance of purposeful recognition to show appreciation and retain and attract top talent.

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The Power Of Purposeful Recognition with David Novak

I am fired up to have one of the greatest leaders of our time on the show. He’s the former CEO and Chairman of Yum! Brands, which includes Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut. He’s the author of the New York Times bestselling book Taking People with You and O Great One!. He’s the host of one of the top leadership podcasts oGoLead, which I was honored to be on and now I’m pumped to welcome the one and only David Novak to the show.

Jesse, you know how to pump somebody up and to give them some great recognition.

I want to start the show with energy. I’ve just been following you for a while. It’s so tough for someone to look and say CEO of Yum! Brands, the biggest restaurant companies in the world. I want to hear about your journey a little bit to set some context. How did you get there? How can somebody even fathom growing that much in leadership?

Jesse, I’m always blown away by people who achieve things they never thought they could achieve. I believe that you never know what you’re capable of. That’s how I view my life. I never envisioned becoming the Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands and working with the company with brands like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC that has 1.5 million people in it. I just never ever envisioned that because I came from a very humble background. I started out with two very huge advantages. Number one, I was born in this country where there is a tremendous opportunity, and I became a real product of the American dream. Number two, I was born the son of Charles and Jean Novak. I consider them to be my biggest break in life because they gave me all the love and nurturing that I needed.

My dad was a government surveyor. He surveyed with fifteen other surveyors. He surveyed longitude and latitude points. He would go into small towns, survey the surrounding area, and then we would move. I lived in 23 states by the time I was in the seventh grade. The biggest house that I had was 8×46 feet wide with mom and it was a trailer. My dad would hook up the government truck to the trailer along with the other fourteen or fifteen surveying families. We’d go from trailer park to trailer park up and down the Midwest. I didn’t get our first permanent location until my seventh grade when my mom wanted that to happen and we lived in Kansas City, Missouri. People always go like, “David, how did you do that?” I thought everybody grew up that way, number one and number two, it ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me. My mom would check me into schools and she’d say, “David, you better make friends because we’re leaving.” That was true. A few months later, we would leave.

I learned very quickly how to go into new situations, size up the situation, look around and see who the good guys were or see who the not so good people were, figure out who I wanted to make friends with. I knew I only had a few months to do it so I didn’t waste any time. It gave me very good people skills and very good instincts for people. People always ask, “You assess this person so quickly and you’re right. How did you do it?” I said, “I think it happened because of my childhood.” I was the first kid in my family to get a college education. I started out as an advertising copywriter. My first office was a little cubicle back in the corner of this very small advertising agency in Washington DC and there was a hamburger behind my desk. My wife said that was a sign that I was going to become a fast food mogul.

BDD 182 | Purposeful Recognition
Taking People with You: The Only Way to Make Big Things Happen

You started advertises and you’ve learned marketing. Is that where you got people skills and marketing skills?

I got a big break. I went to the University of Missouri because it was in-state tuition, but they also had a great journalism school. That’s where I fell in love with marketing. I took some advertising courses. I was a real mediocre student until I took that advertising course. I loved advertising and marketing and then I couldn’t learn enough about it. That’s why it’s so important to find what you love because once you love something, it never works. It’s your hobby. You’re just out there trying to get better and better at it. You might play sports when you’re coming up as a kid, but when you go into a career, it’s nice to not go to work. It’s nice to go execute your new hobby and that’s what my work always was. I worked my way up in marketing. I started out as an advertising copywriter, which was fantastic because there’s nothing worse than looking at a blank sheet of paper and you’ve got to come up with the idea. Both taught me to be self-reliant on ideas and creativity. It also taught me how hard it is to be creative and how to work with creative people.

I wanted to be on the business side of advertising so I got into account work. I ended going to Dallas and I worked at TracyLocke advertising agency. They’re not a big account as Frito-Lay and I ended up being the Management Supervisor on Frito-Lay, which was a part of PepsiCo. One day the Head of Frito-Lay and the Senior VP of Marketing there said, “How would you like to be head of marketing for Pizza Hut?” That was a part of PepsiCo. PepsiCo had Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. I said, “I’d be interested. I’d like to go to the site.” I went to Pizza Hut. I met with Steve Reinemund who was the President at the time. He later became the Chairman of PepsiCo. He offered me the job right after that day. I remember he picked me up at the airport and I was so impressed with him because he was so humble. He carried my bag and I said, “You must be the humblest guy I’ve ever met or you need a marketing guy.” It turned out both of true.

I got the diamond in the rough, Pepsi and marketing sales to Pepsi. I wanted to become a general manager so I asked for an operating job and then I became President of KFC and Pizza Hut. I was in the right place at the right time to become the head of Yum! Brands. I had the opportunity to go to be the CEO of Frito-Lay. They asked me to do that job. I loved the restaurant business. That was a much bigger job, but I turned it down because I love the restaurant business because it’s all about people, all about food and all about marketing. It’s the closest thing in terms of direct response of any marketing you’ll ever do. Once you put something on the air, once you do something right from a marketing standpoint, you can see the sales within three days. This was right up my wheelhouse. I knew it and I didn’t want to go to Frito-Lay. I didn’t know at the time the reason why they wanted me to go to Frito-Lay is they wanted to get me back into PepsiCo because they were going to spin-off the restaurant brands into its own independent public company. I said no and as a result, I was running Pizza Hut and KFC at the time, I got to be the head of Yum! Brands.

There’s such a great parallel there in learning marketing first, learning what drives people, and then learning the people business. You probably didn’t learn the people business at first. You are learning how to attract people to brands.

You need to apply marketing to everything you do. I apply marketing when I think about Taking People with You. I wrote the book Taking People with You and it’s all about having an insight-driven approach to leading people. You need to get inside the heads of your people and understand how they think just like you want to understand your customers. If you do that, you can understand what perceptions, habits, and beliefs they have. You can then formulate the right strategy and the right ideas to motivate them and inspire them to go the extra mile and to get things done. I use marketing and the marketing thought process in terms of everything that I do.

[bctt tweet=”70% of the people who changed jobs say it’s because they don’t feel appreciated for what they do.” via=”no”]

You’ve done some outrageous marketing, David. I understand how the Doritos Locos Tacos came from your connections with Frito-Lay and also Taco Bell. I do want to go into the soft skills because I’ve heard you say that the soft stuff is what drives hard results and the heart wiring. I love this marketing. Tell me some of this crazy marketing and some of these stories that have come up because people need to think differently on how they market. You’ve done a lot of that with Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut.

I’ll tell you a story about what I did at Pepsi, which is not a success story but there’s a lot of learning there. When I went to Pepsi, I had great success in Pizza Hut. We had turned Pizza Hut around and doubled the sales and profits in the four-year period. I was brought in to Pepsi at the time because Pepsi was struggling with sales and the business was starting to decline. It’s still declining because of all the alternative drinks that are available out there. I knew I needed a big idea. I was sitting in my office one day and I was looking at all the category and information. I’d already been out in the marketplace. I saw what was growing on and what wasn’t and I realized that everything that was growing was clear. All these drinks were clear and they had no caffeine. I said to myself, “I’m going to create a clear Pepsi.” This was like, “I’ve got the greatest idea in the history of the world. I’m going to do a clear Pepsi.”

I called up Roger Enrico, who’s an excellent marketing guy and I said, “I just had this idea. What do you think of it?” He was like, “That’s unique. That’s different. Find out about it and see where it leads you.” I went out and did focus groups and people told me this is a great idea. I developed the product and I named it Crystal Pepsi. I had a meeting with the Pepsi-Cola bottlers. The Pepsi-Cola bottlers own the distribution system. Pepsi sells them the concentrate, the products, and the brands and then the bottlers go out and put it into the stores and get the distribution that you need to have to sell. They said, “David, this is a great idea, but there’s a problem with it.” At this point in time, I didn’t want to hear about any problems. We launched this thing into a test market in Colorado and it made national news.

In fact, Dan Rather who was this anchor for CBS came on and he said, “Now in Boulder, Colorado, Pepsi-Cola launched the clear Pepsi.” They showed it coming off the lines. There’s the lead story. While I was walking around, I was thinking, “I’m the greatest thing since a yellow banana. This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened.” I went to this meeting with the bottlers and they said, “We’ve got a problem.” I said, “What’s your problem?” They said, “It doesn’t taste like Pepsi.” I said, “I don’t want it to taste like Pepsi. I want it to be a different cola so we’ll bring it into million users.” They said, “Yeah, but it doesn’t taste enough like Pepsi.” I said, “It doesn’t, but that’s on purpose because I want to bring in these and promote users together then it tastes like Pepsi.” I didn’t want to hear what they had to say. They said, “If you’re going to call it Crystal Pepsi, it’s got to have more Pepsi.” I thought they were crazy. I said, “I’m going to be a heat-seeking missile.” What Pepsi does every year is to go on the Super Bowl. I rushed this through test market and we developed the advertising.

We launched Crystal Pepsi on the Super Bowl. It was the only product in the history of the Pepsi-Cola company that was launched at a premium price. I was so mad about it because I wanted low pricing so I can get trial. The bottlers said to me, “David, we’re going to launch this at a premium price and we’re going to make a lot of money on it.” I said, “Why are you doing that?” They said, “It’s because it’s not going to be around that long.” They launched it at a premium price and made a ton of money on it. We got a great trial, but we didn’t get a great repeat. The number one reason for us not getting a great repeat is it didn’t taste enough like Pepsi. If I would’ve given it more Pepsi-Cola flavor notes, I would have been able to take this huge big idea and it would become unbelievable.

In fact, the previous year it was rated in the top ten products of the year. In the year 2000, Time Magazine did a story on the top 100 failures in the last century and Crystal Pepsi was in the top fifteen or something like that. The great learning there is you’ve got to think outside the box. You’ve got to come up with a unique idea and I did, but you also need to make sure that it is relevant and it does fit your customers’ needs. It can’t just be an idea that you have. I jammed this in and I was in a hurry, and we didn’t wait for the repeat numbers. As a result, it wasn’t a good product as it could have been. Jesse, this is the best idea I ever have. If I can go and redo that, it’d be a five-share brand in the cola category. They brought it back on a little bit of time. That was a good example.

BDD 182 | Purposeful Recognition
Purposeful Recognition: Learning from other people and from other brands and doing pattern thinking helps you come up with all kinds of great ideas.


I’ve always found that if you learn from other people and learn from other brands and you do what I call pattern thinking, you can come up with all kinds of great ideas. You’re one of the best pattern thinkers I’ve ever seen. You’re the best marketing person I’ve met in the last several years. It’s interesting because you’re self-taught. You don’t have an MBA or any of that. You read about everything you could about what’s great marketing and how to make it work. I get the same thing. I didn’t have an MBA and I couldn’t get enough about marketing. I’d read everything cover-to-cover that I thought every book that I thought would help me and it did. I always got my best ideas by going out in the marketplace and seeing what other people are doing and then say, “How could I do it at Yum! Brands?” I was running marketing in Pizza Hut. I went to California Pizza Kitchen and they had all these specialty pizzas. I came back and doubled the number of pepperonis on our pizza and came up with our specialty pizza line called Pepperoni Lovers. We had cheese lovers, meat lovers, and veggie lovers. All this came from looking at what California Pizza Kitchen was. It was our best-selling product line. It was so easy to do and it was just right there.

When I was working with Frito-Lay, I developed Cool Ranch Doritos. I didn’t go to the snack aisle to get the idea. I went to the salad dressing aisle. What we found with the salad dressings that was growing the fastest was the ranch flavor. I went to the R&D people in Frito-Lay and said, “Let’s do a ranch flavor Dorito.” It became a huge success. I don’t think I’m that smart, but I know I need to have the world. It’s the environment that gives me and feeds me the ideas that I come up with and where my team comes up.

When you said pattern thinking, that’s how we look at everything. You take something from another industry and then you make it your own. You made a great point there, David. The Crystal Pepsi didn’t work for a few reasons. One of it was it wasn’t on brand because it didn’t taste like Pepsi. We always need to think, “Are we on brand?” We are never going to be the Ritz-Carlton here at our stadium. We’re 1926 ballpark, but can we be over the top fun. If you try to do something that doesn’t fit your brand, it doesn’t work. Taco Bell, for instance. Taco Bell Weddings and all of these fit the brand. Is that something you think about with your marketing as well?

You have to be authentic. You have to be consistent with your DNA. Look at what’s going on with KFC right now with the launch of the colonel and bringing back the celebrity colonel. They made that brand hip and cool again. The marketing guy there is a genius. He believed that the colonel was a big part of the DNA. He wanted to bring the colonel back, but he found a way to do it in a way that would be appealing to the Millennials, and update and contemporize the KFC brand. Taco Bell has always been prying on top of what’s going on. We were one of the first to embrace social media. We created what we call the fishbowl at a Taco Bell. We monitored social media 24/7 and what people were saying around our brand. We would tweet back or we would go online, and we’d have lots of fun doing a Taco Bell personality and that works. Taco Tuesdays where when you steal the game, the NBA or you’re winning games in all-star games, Taco Bell is there, but they have fun. People want to have fun, Jesse. You’re the master at having fun. People want to have those escapes. They not only want to enjoy your brand, but they want your brand to take them to a place you wouldn’t naturally go.

I want to get into recognition because I believe you are the guru on recognition. Not only was our president, our director of first impressions, our president sent it to his family because he wanted his parents to read it. It gets spread all over the place and it’s something that’s not talked about enough in leadership. I want to go a few other things from O Great One!. You talk about make recognition fun and recognition would be fun for everyone, not just a person being recognized. I’d love to hear some things for pattern thinkers like us that you’ve done.

I want to go back telling you why I became so passionate about it. When I was running marketing or operations for Pepsi, I used to go out on the field and I meet with people and ask them what was working and what wasn’t working. I did what I call the round table in Saint Louis. I was talking to these route salesmen and I was asking what was working in merchandising, and they all started raving about this guy named Bob sitting across the table. This guy is the greatest guy in the history of the world. If you want to learn about merchandising, talk to Bob. He’s done this, he’s done that and they’re raving about him and keeping all this praise on. I looked down at the end of the table and he was crying. I said, “Bob, why are you crying?” He said, “I’ve been in this company for 47 years. I’m retiring in soon and I didn’t know people felt this way about me.” I said to myself, “That’s so sad. I don’t want to have any boss in my company. I want to do everything I can to make sure that people like Bob are recognized for what they do because there was this guy who was better than everybody around that table.” He didn’t feel appreciated. That hit me. I said to myself, “When I have the chance that from this day forward, I’m going to look for powerful ways to recognize people.”

[bctt tweet=”Nobody is going to care about you until you care about them. ” via=”no”]

I saw your tweet. 82% of people do not feel recognized by their supervisor.

70% of the people say they changed jobs because they don’t feel appreciated for what they do. This is unbelievable. I decided to make recognition a big behavior that I was going to drive home from that day forward. A couple of weeks later, I got the chance for the first time to become the President of KFC. I went into KFC and I said, “I’m going to make recognition the biggest thing going.” The morale was terrible there. They hadn’t made their business plan for several years. Franchisees hated the company. The company hated the franchisees. I had to bring everybody together and I said, “I want to use the recognition to do that, but I wanted to have a good idea.”

Most presidents give away a plaque, a watch or something boring so I said to my public affairs guy, “I need to come up with a great idea.” I was thinking about a great idea. I learned about this guy in IT who has a meeting every month with his department and he gave away this special award and it was a rubber chicken. I went to him and I said, “I love that idea. I’m looking for a president reward. Can I convert this idea off of you?” He gave me the right answer, which was yes. I took it and I started going out and recognizing people with these rubber chicken. I would number them. Each one is a number and I would write on the rubber chicken, “Jesse, thank you for all you’re doing to make KFC products so great. I appreciate all you do. Thanks for your several years at KFC.” I’d sign it and then I would take a picture of them and say, “I’m going to put your picture on my office and I’m going to send you the picture. You can do whatever you want. You’re the person who’s making it happen. What you do is what makes our business tick. You’re going to go into my office and then I line my walls up in my office with pictures I recognize.” People said, “What happens if you run out of wall space? I said, “I’m going to put it on the ceiling.”

I started putting pictures on the ceilings and now they go out in the hallways and all that. People started crying when I gave them these rubber chickens. I did give them $100 because you can’t eat a rubber chicken. I was the President of the company and I can do that. The money was never in, it was always the recognition. What you do matters. Great leaders demonstrate people that what they do counts. I believe that leaders cast a shadow. Once I started recognizing people, other people started recognizing people. Everybody came up with their own individual recognition awards and this became the thing that drove our company and the culture that we have and it drives results. I’m a big proponent of recognition. I didn’t want to get promoted to Pizza Hut. I gave away green bell pepper cheeseheads. They want to get motivated to run Yum! Brands. I gave away these walkie-talkies with the Yum! written on top and catching people walk the talk on behalf of our customers around the world. Recognition should be done spontaneously. When you see somebody doing something good, recognize them right now. Don’t wait for this monumental annual meeting or whatever. Those are nice. Those are good too. Monthly celebrations are fun. Weekly celebrations are fun but recognize the behaviors you want when you see it.

It started from the top, but then you mentioned that it started going in different departments. Different groups started to do recognition. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that because we always say we need to recognize. I’m pitching our stadium. We started having the concession stands doing their own recognition. We started having different places. Everybody has these silos in their company. Tell me how that happened. Can you give some examples?

First of all, I taught a leadership program called Taking People with You. I taught it over 4,000 people in our company. I’m going around talking about the power of recognition, but people saw the power of recognition what happened when I did it. They would see people that are working on their teams get recognized that hadn’t been recognized. They saw the power of it and then they embraced it. The best ideas are the ideas that you’ve come up with yourself because you own them. I don’t believe telling the sign. You want people to come up with their own ideas so I told them the joy I got and I showed them how to do it, but then they realized how powerful it was and they said, “I want to do it too.” That’s what happened and then it spread throughout the organizations.

BDD 182 | Purposeful Recognition
Purposeful Recognition: Leaders cast a shadow. Great leaders demonstrate to people that what they do count.


Our construction people gave away shovels. A guy who loved baseball would give away a baseball glove. Everybody came up with their own recognition awards. Our finance guy gave a little piggy bank and said, “Show me the money on it.” Everybody had fun with it and it spread like wildfire across our organization. I was taught how to be a communicator. I used to be nervous when I was coming up, but I got some professional training in speaking. Now I can’t wait to speak to 13,000 people. I learned the skill. I learned out on the product quality and great products. I learned the process of finance even though I wasn’t a financial executive. I was trained on all these different things, but I was never trained on recognition.

I looked around and nobody is training people on recognition, yet 82% of people feel they’re not recognized by their supervisors. It’s the number one reason why people leave. It’s is what creates a turnover. If you have a $50,000-job and you have to replace that with another person that used to cost somebody’s $75,000 to replace somebody. If you could just show appreciation, think how much better your business could be and you can retain and attract top talent because people leave when they don’t feel appreciated. Nobody is teaching this. I am with my new company oGoLead and our website is I created a recognition program called Purposeful Recognition. You don’t do recognition for recognition’s sake. You recognize what’s important. Let me ask you, Jesse. When you look at The Savannah Bananas, what are the four things that you want to have everybody on your team do?

Everything starts with Fans First. We go backward from that. If you look at it, it’s caring, enthusiastic and fun. We look at that and that’s how do we make people feel every day.

It’s a caring, enthusiastic feel. What I would say purposeful recognition is anytime you see somebody on your team do something that’s caring, you recognize them. Did you see how Sally just cared for that customer over there? Anytime you see somebody do something fun and outrageous with your customers, you recognize them. “You came up with the greatest. I couldn’t believe how everybody was laughing when they saw that.” Enthusiasm. “Is there anybody more enthusiastic than Debbie over here? She is working on the background but she’s always positive.” You recognize the behaviors that you know are going to drive results and people will do it more often. It’s very simple but very powerful. I’m training people how to do that. I train people on how to do recognition systems if It’s personal so that you own it and it’s consistent with your DNA. I talk about the recognition and how you can knock them down and I’ve talked about how to make recognition a way of life.

You simplified too what we just went through. I went through our core beliefs: caring, different, enthusiastic and fun. I went through our core beliefs in every company. If you want them to believe in your brand, you’ve got to recognize it every day with every chance you get. David, I started thinking about my favorite moments at the end of the nights when we talk and we sit. Everyone shouts to each other out for doing amazing things because we need it. We need to feel a purpose and feel pride in what we’re doing. I’m so glad that you’re teaching. You have the pictures, David, of the people that you used to take. It wasn’t, “Get a picture with the CEO.” You put them in your office. That’s amazing. We had a player one time. A kid came up and said, “Can I get your autograph?” He said, “Only if I can have yours.” The kid signs his hat and it goes both ways. I praised him. My dream now is that every player to have all kids’ autographs all over their hats because showing what it’s all about the opposite and that starts with recognition. We’ve got to recognize our players for how they made them feel.

That player that did that and if other people see it, they’ll do that too because they’ll like it. They’ll like the idea and that’s how it spreads. It’s great that you take the time to recognize people. I don’t think it’s just this new generation, the Millennials, and Gen Y. It’s true forever. I interview all kinds of people from my leadership programs and I interviewed the great late John Wooden. He was a big proponent of recognition. He said that one of his roles was that every time a player scored a basket, he wanted another player to acknowledge that person who threw him the ball, set the pick or made the basket possibly. One of the players said to him, “Coach, what if they’re not looking?” He said, “They’ll be looking.” He knew the power of recognition. He said, “David if you don’t feel needed, you’re through.” He understood the importance of valuing everybody on your team. You also have to recognize bad behavior.

[bctt tweet=”When you say thank you, it says to people you’re paying attention.” via=”no”]

How do you do that?

As a leader, you can’t be talking about fun, enthusiasm, caring, fan first and have somebody over there who’s not fun, enthusiastic, caring, and then treat customers right. If people like that are on your team, you as a leader, you’ve got to hold them accountable for changing and if they don’t change, send them somewhere else and make other companies miserable.

How do you have those conversations? That’s a tough thing to do.

What I do is I’ll talk to somebody and if I see something, I’ll take them inside and I say, “Can I give you some coaching?” He’d say yes. We believe that it’s important to treat everybody with respect. When you walk into that restaurant and you didn’t say hi to one team member and all you did is go over to this person and tell something that this was dirty. We shouldn’t have anything that they didn’t clean in a restaurant, but there were a lot of great things going on in that restaurant. I like you to think about how you could maybe acknowledge the good things that are going on and then say, “We can be more effective if we do this.” The bigger issue here is you can’t treat people that way. You can’t go in and act as if you’re better than them. If you do, that’s inconsistent with what we’re all about. I will coach somebody very directly. You’ve got to have the productive conflict and then if they don’t change after the coaching, I do say, “Go make somebody else miserable.”

The great thing you said is, “Can I give you some coaching?” Every leader should ask that question to get permission to coach. I bet you no one has ever said no.

No one is going to say no, but when you’re coaching, what does the coach do? Help some people fulfill their potential growth and showing that you care. I believe that one of the major tenets in business and working with people is nobody is going to care about you until you care about them. It’s a major tenet that is essential. The people who made you better in your career, you know they care about. I got a lot of guys who invested and women invested a lot in me starting with care and moving up the ladder in the business. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I didn’t have people who didn’t take me aside, giving me some coaching and also cheering me on. It’s important to have people on so they do more of it.

BDD 182 | Purposeful Recognition
Purposeful Recognition: The power of recognition and the power of thank you is that you acknowledge what someone has done for you.


One of your last principles is to say thank you every chance you get and how these two little words are powerful and cost nothing to use. That’s how we connected. I was so impacted by your books and how our team was. I wrote a thank you and now we’ve got our own little relationship, which I appreciate it. Tell me how thank you has become a big part of your recognition system.

You’re the crazy guy. You’ve got the yellow tuxedo and your give away bananas. You’d do all those fun wacky stuff. I’m a crazy guy. I gave away rubber chickens and cheeseheads. I don’t have any problem not taking myself too seriously, but I take the business very seriously. Not everybody is like us. Everybody has to find a way to recognize people and show appreciation. If you say thank you, you do that. Anybody can say thank you. The power of recognition and the power of thank you is that you acknowledge what someone has done for you. You acknowledge their work. You acknowledge the value that they brought to the equation. When you say thank you, it says to people you’re paying attention. The same as recognition. The reason why recognition is powerful is it says that someone is watching. They love to be appreciated for what they do. They want to be valued. We all want to be valued.

Thank you as a very simple way to do it. I still tell people, “I’m a floppy chicken kind of guy, but you may not be.” To some people I know, I can go to somebody’s office and leave them a note and surprise them. Some people I know write notes to their parents and the people that work for them. Some people I know like to go to lunch with someone. I don’t care what you do, just do it. Make sure you recognize people. Do it consistent with your style. Do it consistent with your DNA. Do it consistent with your brand. Every person is a brand. Find a way. It’s good in a way that’s consistent with your brand. That CFO did it with a piggy bank with some money inside and he had fun doing it. All of a sudden, he got a lot better sense of humor that he had before and people loved seeing him doing that. You have to do things that are consistent with what you all are.

Everyone wants to be seen and heard. If we just look every day, instead of trying to be recognized, we look to recognize people. What if you had that lens every day and you’re looking, “How can I recognize?” It’s the Whale Done! philosophy that Ken Blanchard talks about.

Do it spontaneously. I always traveled with my award and sometimes I’d go back into the car or I’d be right in the middle of consultation and I can learn something great that somebody just did. I said, “I’ll be right back up.” I’ll come back and I’ll have my award. I do my little presentation. I do it right there on the spot at the end of the presentation. If somebody presented a great idea, I’d say, “Hold on a second.” I’ll run into my office, I get a Yum! award, I’ll bring you back in there and I’d recognize them right then and there. Don’t wait to recognize people. Do it when you see it. When you start doing that, people are going to love it. They’re going to love looking for you. They’re going to feel valued. They’re going to feel appreciated and it gives results. I’m a combination of a teddy bear and a grizzly bear. I love to recognize people. I love to have fun doing it. I do it because it’s the right thing to do with people and it gets results. If people don’t do things right and they don’t get the results, I’m a grizzly bear. Leaders have to be a teddy bear and a grizzly bear.

I just love what you said about recognizing great ideas. Some companies are like, “We don’t have great ideas in our company.” How often do you recognize the ideas that are happening in your company? Every company needs to innovate. Every company needs new ideas so start recognizing when ideas happen.

[bctt tweet=”The problem with common sense is it’s not that common.” via=”no”]

That’s what I mean by purposeful recognition. People said, “David, we’re different than the restaurant business because of how we work here.” I say, “What makes you so different?” They say, “We’re engineers.” I said, “What do you have to have engineering?” They said, “We have to have process and discipline. We need to have a rigor around cost.” You go through those things and I say, “Those are very important behaviors. Why don’t you recognize the people on your team who do those things? You’re going to get more of it.” If you want recognition on your team, recognize the innovation that you see. That’s purposeful recognition. It makes such common sense, but the problem with common sense is it’s not that common. This is so powerful. It’s right there where every leader takes advantage of. That’s why I’m so excited about our recognition training.

I believe that any company that does this will enhance their business. We can change the way how people do business in this country. There’s so much toxic leadership. The world starves for people to recognize them and it makes people feel bad. 70% of employees that go to work are not engaged. I believe that people train people on recognition and the leaders understood the power of recognition. You’re going to change your business and I believe this is transformational. I have a lot of CEO friends. I always tell these guys, “You’re crazy if you don’t do this.” I’ve got a team that would like to make money, but I don’t care. I’m making my money, but I want to change the world. I’m going to make the world better. This is not going to change my life, but what it can do is change so many other people’s lives and that’s what excites me about what I do.

Let’s finish with some rapid-fire questions, David. You’re going to be fired up. I’m already signing up. I don’t know where to sign up, but I’m going to do it. I’m excited. Give some advice to a young leader. What will you do to stand out in business and in life?

Don’t waste too much time in an area that you don’t love. Everybody always says that, but I don’t think people tell you why. The reason is if you love something, you can’t get enough of it. You’re usually very good at it. When you’re good at something and you love it, and you want to learn more about it, you grow so fast that it’s unbelievable. It will make you happy. The other thing is to have a burning desire. There’s nothing wrong with the ambition. Sometimes they shy away from that word. They’re like, “I was the most vicious competitive guy you could ever see.” I would look around and I say, “If that person is doing that job, what do they have that I don’t have?” I’m going to get it and then I’m going to build my capabilities so that I can have that job too and I’m going to work my way up. Be ambitious for yourself and for your business.

The third thing that is essential is being an avid learner. It’s all part of doing what you love, but be a learner. Keep growing yourself and your business. Know yourself, grow yourself, and constantly learn about yourself. Take a self-assessment of how you are, what you need to do to be better, and just keep doing that. If you did those things, you’re very powerful. Jesse, I do podcasts. I did a podcast with you. I’ve done a podcast with Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase, Tom Brady, great leaders, Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines, the head of Target, Brian Cornell, and all great leaders. I’ve done 70 podcasts. All of the great leaders are also humble. They’re humble enough to know that leadership is a privilege. There are a lot of people that work hard, but not everybody gets to lead. Somehow, God graces you with this capability that’s made you a leader. They’re humble enough to know that they need other people. They’re humble enough to get other people involved. They’re humble enough to tell people, “I’m working on this. Help me.” Humility is an unbelievable and important skill. If you grow up and you move up the ladder and you think you deserve all this stuff, you’re missing.

Do you have one leadership habit? Some that stick for you. Is there a habit that’s helped you throughout?

BDD 182 | Purposeful Recognition
Purposeful Recognition: You make your worst decisions when you’re angry and your best decisions when you’re grateful.


I learned this concept from Bernie Sanders who was the father of culture. I read his books and he helped me grow my culture with some training exercises that people could use around the behaviors that we wanted to drive it. He taught me the concept of the mood elevator. In the mood elevator, you make your worst decisions when you’re angry and your best decisions when you’re grateful. You want to move up the mood elevator and at least get above the line, which is curious and interested before you go to work. What I do every day is I get up and I write down three things that I’m grateful for. Those are my three gratitude. It’s the three things that I’m grateful for that I’ve been blessed that I have. That moves me up the mood elevator and then I work out. When you work out, you’re energetic. My routine starts the night before. I try to be like an athlete.

I visualize my next day or my week and meetings I’m going to have, the people I’m going to see, and what would a good outcome be and then how do I think through what I need to do to make sure that that outcome happens. I do that the night before. I get up, do my gratitude, workout, think about my visualization that I did the night before. When everybody else is looking for the coffee cups and the coffee pot, I’m already going $100 an hour. I’m ready to go. You’ve got to be prepared. Leaders have got to prepare themselves.

We’re so similar. I come into the office high fiving everyone because, in the last few minutes, I’ll listen to music that I love that gets me in a good mood. I listen to podcasts on the way. I come through the door and I say, “Bring the energy and bring the fun, and the doors trigger.” When you come into any door, what are you bringing into that scene? The gratitude is great, David.

You are one of the best leaders and the best learners I’ve met. You’re a whack job. There’s no question. You’re passionate about the right things and that’s what great entrepreneurs are. They’re so committed to their cause and what they believe in. I’m very inspired by you and I appreciate very much the opportunity to return the favor on your show. I know this won’t be as good as yours.

David, I’ve learned so much. It’s blown me away. I do have one final little piece here. I opened my book with my eulogy that I wrote and I’m always wondering, how do you want to be remembered? You have made such an impact already in the world.

At one point, I always thought I’d be a leader. That was too much about what I was. Now it’s more of, “You made the world a better place by helping others become better leaders.” I’d like to be known for helping people become the best possible leaders they can be and I would like to become known for being the person that led the recognition revolution. I’m trying to do that. That’s why I’m so excited about my recognition training. That’s why I am glad I get to be on this show because, in my own way, I’m a preacher on it. This is something that I’m very passionate about. I had so much fun.

This has been amazing. Legacy is not what you leave for people. It’s what you leave in people. You’ve left so much in so many people and I can’t wait to hear more about this recognition. David, thank you so much. You’re always tweeting and putting out great comments. Where can people learn more about you and connect?

Go to That’s where you can learn all about our leadership program. The biggest thing about that website is that we have 70 podcast leaders like yourself on this, which are all free. We have free content blogs on leadership that is very powerful and engaging. We do offer our leadership programs. Go there. I love doing Twitter. Every day I try to do a daily tweet. It’s something that counts to me. You can follow me @DavidNovakoGo. I had a lot of fun with this. I retired and I’m blessed to be able to use now all of the learnings that I got to help other people.

David, thank you so much for being on the show. This was an absolute pleasure.

It’s my pleasure. Keep up the great work.

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About David Novak

BDD 182 | Purposeful Recognition

David Novak is Co-Founder, retired Chairman, and CEO of Yum! Brands one of the world’s largest restaurant companies with over 45,000 restaurants in more than 135 countries and territories. After retiring in 2016, he became Founder and CEO of oGoLead, a digital leadership development platform created to help people become better leaders by teaching vital Heartwiring™ and Hardwiring™ skills.

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.

A renowned expert on leadership and recognition culture, Novak is also a bestselling leadership book author. His highly respected and critically acclaimed books including The New York Times bestseller Taking People With You, The Only Way to Achieve Big Things, The Education of an Accidental CEO and his 2016 parable, O GREAT ONE! A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition.

During his tenure as CEO, Yum! Brands doubled in size, 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. 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.

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 Horatio Alger Award for his commitment to philanthropy and higher education and the 2012 UN World Food Program Leadership Award for Yum! Brands World Hunger Relief.