Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

Ever since we were young and got our first soccer participation trophies, people have loved to be recognized. It’s especially true at work, where hard work often goes unnoticed and underappreciated. Leaders who can create a culture that values employees and celebrates their successes can build an inclusive culture where employees are engaged and excited.

One of the best examples of a recognition-focused leader is David Novak, the former CEO of Yum Brands. As CEO, David oversaw 1.5 million employees around the world and made recognizing their accomplishments one of his major goals.

As part of the research for my new book, The Future Leader, I interviewed more than 140 CEOs around the world. You can learn more and get a copy of the book with all of the insights and research at I appreciated hearing wisdom from David’s career and his amazing stories of developing as a leader and helping people around him do the same.

David says the event that had the biggest impact on his career was when he was running operations at PepsiCo. He traveled throughout the company to visit employees and hold round table discussions as a way to get to know employees.

At one meeting, David talked with a group of merchandisers and asked who was really good at merchandising. Everyone started raving about an employee named Bob who they all said was an amazing merchandiser. At the end of the table, Bob started to cry. He had been with the company for 47 years and was set to retire in two weeks and didn’t know people felt that way about him.

The experience hit David in the gut. He didn’t want any other employees to go so long without knowing the impact of their talent and dedication. He vowed to do everything in his power to make sure there weren’t any Bobs in the organization and make recognition the top value and behavior on every team and in every culture he influenced.
David kept that promise to himself as he became CEO of Yum Brands. He says the best companies create cultures where everyone counts and knows they matter. Leaders of the future will make purposeful recognition the single biggest trait to drive their performance.

Recognition should be personal and impactful. During his career, David had fun with recognition and used it as a motivational tool and a way to break out of routine. When he was president of KFC, he wrote a person’s accomplishments on a floppy rubber chicken and then take a picture of them holding it. At Pizza Hut, he gave away giant cheese heads for a job well done. The focus on recognition spread throughout the company, and soon leaders of other restaurants and divisions created their own fun and unique recognition programs.

David believes there’s a recognition deficit in the world. People lose interest in their jobs and ultimately leave because they don’t feel appreciated or recognized. It’s up to leaders to change that trend and pay attention to their employees to recognize them for progress and accomplishments.

Future leaders need to understand and connect with their employees. Building a recognition culture comes from appreciating each person’s work and making sure their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.

If you want to learn the leadership secrets of some of the world’s top CEOs (Airbnb, MasterCard, Yum! Brands, and more), you can sign up for the Leadership Reset to get access to the video coaching and training sessions.