Yum Brands CEO steps down to preach Gospel of Recognition

Yum Brands CEO steps down to preach Gospel of Recognition

After almost 20 years as executive chairman and board member at Yum! Brands, Inc., David Novak stepped down in May to devote his professional life to preaching the Gospel of Recognition.

It’s a huge step. Yum! Brands is the restaurant and food franchise behemoth that owns KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell. It has nearly 43,000 restaurants in more than 130 countries and had over $13 billion in revenues in 2015. It opens an average of six new restaurants per day!

Now he’s founder and CEO of OGO (O Great One!), the first consumer brand focused on the awesome power of recognition.

When it comes to recognition, Novak is clearly a true believer.

“As the CEO of Yum, I learned harnessing the power of recognition can revitalize company culture,” he says.

“Whether it was handing out personalized rubber chicken or cheese head awards or giving a set of wind-up walking teeth to employees who ‘Walk the Talk,’ recognizing Yum employees was an enormous passion of mine and part of our success in connecting people back to the company by showing them how much they were appreciated.”

Privilege of Leadership

There’s nothing explicitly biblical, much less Christian, in Novak’s new mission. But his others-centric behavior certainly resonates with key Gospel principles, including Jesus’ example of using leadership as an opportunity to serve those we lead.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mark 10:45a)

While some leaders try to hog all the credit for organizational achievements, Novak says giving recognition to others is “a privilege of leadership.” That’s why, he explains, “we built a culture of recognition with each group, leader and brand embracing recognition in their own, personalized way around the globe.”

His praise-led approach is not unlike the good manager from Jesus’ parable who was quick to say: Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23)

Global Recognition Deficit

A new study conducted by KRC Research for OGO found nearly 90 percent of middle-management employees feel unrecognized by their supervisors and 88 percent also feel unrecognized by their co-workers.

90 percent of middle-management feel unrecognized by their supervisors 

“We also discovered recognition and appreciation go far beyond the workplace with a shortage of recognition — what I've dubbed the ‘global recognition deficit’ — seen at home and in people's personal lives,” Novak says.

He cites other statistics to support his theory of a global deficit: 70 percent of Americans wish they were recognized more overall; meanwhile, 83 percent concede they could do more to recognize others.

“This is why I'm excited to launch OGO and bring the power of recognition to the forefront. My goal is to create a movement that motivates people to use recognition on a regular basis and inspire others to do great things,” Novak says.

10 Key Principles

Novak says there are 10 key principles that explain why recognition is important in human relationships.

1. People won't care about you if you don't care about them. Before you expect anything from other people, you must show them you care about them.

2. The best way to show people you care is to listen to them. If you don't take the time to hear and acknowledge what someone has to say, they won't believe that you care about them.

3. A great idea can come from anywhere. Great ideas are essential to the success of any organization, but don't assume that they come only from leaders — anyone can have a great idea.

4. Recognize great work and great ideas whenever and wherever you see them. Great leaders celebrate other people's ideas even more than their own, and do it in a way that is real and from the heart.

Great leaders celebrate other people's ideas even more than their own

5. Make recognition a catalyst for results. The reason you recognize someone must be directly tied to the important goals and objectives of your organization. Leaders should not only recognize the good, earned behavior, but also recognize counterproductive behavior and address it when he or she sees it. By marking both good and bad behaviors, leaders can create a catalyst that drives results.

6. Make it fun. Everyone will want to be involved in recognition if you create shared experiences that are fun for everyone — not just the one being recognized.

7, Make it personal. When you give a reward, make it personal to you and the person you're recognizing. Don't just give out a generic certificate or plaque.

8. Recognition is universal. Everyone loves to be recognized for who they are and what they do well.

9. Giving recognition is a privilege. Leaders are in the unique position to recognize others. When exercised in the right way, giving recognition is a privilege that feeds people's souls and makes them feel great about themselves.

Giving recognition is a leadership privilege that feeds people's souls. 

10. Say "thank you" every chance you get. The two most powerful words in the English language are "thank" and "you." Use them often.

Pause and Reflect

  • Does it come naturally for you to praise the talents, characteristics or behaviors of others? Why or why not?
  • If those you lead were asked, “How valued do you feel?”, how would they respond?
  • Who can you serve today by recognizing their unique talents, characteristics or behaviors?

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Owen Phelps

Dr. Owen Phelps is Director of the Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute and author of the book, The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus: Introducing S3 Leadership — Servant, Steward, and Shepherd. He has presented Lead Like Jesus Encounters in Canada, Uganda and India, as well as all across the U.S.


He formerly served on the faculty of the College of Business & Management at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, and was a consultant on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Committee for about a decade. He has served as a consultant to church organizations from Vermont to Texas. 


Dr. Phelps was an award-winning writer, columnist, editor and publisher with a multi-state publishing company before he began work in ministry. He has written several articles and contributed chapters to two books devoted to issues of faith-based organizational performance.


He and his wife Jane, a CPA, have been married for 49 years. They live in Durand, Illinois, and Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, and they have five grown children and 17 growing grandchildren.