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david novak mufso

At the recent MUFSO conference, David Novak, co-founder and former CEO of Yum! Brands Inc., shared his three-pronged approach to leadership.

David Novak: Leaders must recognize and praise their teams

This is part of Nation’s Restaurant News' special coverage of the 2016 MUFSO conference, taking place Oct. 23-25 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion Tower in Dallas. Follow coverage of the event on NRN.com and tweet with us using #MUFSO. Stay connected on the go by downloading the MUFSO app.​

Recognition is the secret weapon to winning in the hospitality business, according to David Novak.

The co-founder and former CEO of Yum! Brands Inc. is an evangelist for employee motivation through praise. He delivered a keynote speech at the recent MUFSO conference.

“Every leader casts a shadow,” Novak said. “You set the tone for the company.” 

An essential element of that tone is creating positive energy, the by-product of a culture of recognition. 

“You have to take people with you to make big things happen,” said Novak, who retired from Yum in May 2016. “You have to get your ‘people capability’ right to give customers what they’re really looking for.” 

Novak outlined his three-pronged approach to leadership:

Know thyself. Leaders need to know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and see themselves as a work in progress. Novak said that over the years he prompted members of his team at all levels to be honest when asked what they thought of him as a leader. He also asked what they would do if they had his job. 

“It’s amazing how much feedback I got,” he said.

“I really feel that understanding who you are and seeking out feedback helps you become a better leader,” Novak said. 

View the business as a marketer. Novak, who began his career in marketing, said marketing skills come in handy to engage both internal audiences (employees) and external groups (consumers and franchisees). He provided several examples where marketing research and techniques helped turn around consumer or franchisee acceptance of products, for instance, Taco Bell’s introduction of a new quesadilla and stuffed burrito, and the rollout of breakfast. 

Create a team atmosphere. “If you want to connect with others, you need to create a team environment where everyone connects at every level of organization,” Novak said.

He recalled when he first took over the KFC system and inherited a struggling system and poor morale. 

“It was the perfect opportunity to use recognition to fire up the organization,” Novak said. 

Looking for something more memorable than an employee or franchisee of the month plaque, he settled on a rubber chicken, which he presented to honorees along with $100. 

Photos of the winners cover the walls and ceiling of Novak’s office at the corporate headquarters.

“It’s amazing how this little floppy chicken lit up the place,” Novak said. “People were crying tears of joy. The gesture, along with other business moves, such as working more closely with franchisees to develop new products, turned the brand around.” 

Novak later introduced similar kitschy awards — a giant cheese head for Pizza Hut and a set of walking dentures at Yum — ultimately doling out more than 42,000 awards over a 15-year span at Yum. The awards have inspired even more recognition worldwide across Yum’s divisions.

“There’s no question in my mind that recognition is the soft stuff that drives hard results,” Novak said.

Contact Megan Rowe at [email protected]

The MUFSO Premier sponsor is The Coca Cola Company

Presenting sponsors are: LoyaltyPlant, S&D Coffee, Thanx, The Coca-Cola Company

Keynotes/general sessions are presented by: Avocados from Mexico and Potatoes USA, La Tartine FoodService, Steritech 

Pillar sponsors include: Boylan Bottling, GrubHub, JAVI A/V; McCain Foodservice; Smithfield-Farmland; Sweet Street Desserts; Texas Capital Bank; Tyson Foodservice; Univision; Ventura Foods; Whirley-DrinkWorks!

The Monday night awards reception and awards presentation are sponsored by: Avocados from Mexico

Coca Cola presents the Shake, Sparkle & Stir event, and Texas Pete® are sponsoring the MUFSO Kitchen Hero Cook Off, benefiting Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign

Hot Concepts Celebration is sponsored by Nestle Foodservice; TABASCO®; Young Guns Produce

MUFSO Breakfast sponsors are Community Coffee and Cholula

MUFSO Lunch sponsors are Cholula and Moore's Food Resources

MUFSO Room Key is sponsored by Arby’s

Refreshment breaks are sponsored by Cholula, Royal Cup Coffee and Wrigley

VIP Dinner sponsored by GrubHub for Restaurants, HAVI, Slade Gorton and Whirley-DrinkWorks!

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