Here’s What You, Too, Can Do with a Floppy Chicken

By Nancy Davis Oct 10, 2012

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.—People would prefer to work in an environment where they’re having fun and smiling. To create such an environment, leaders need to set goals, see them through to conclusion, and be sure to take the fun-seeking people with them as they achieve those goals. So says David Novak, chairman and chief executive officer of Yum! Brands, who spoke here at the Oct. 4 opening general session of the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2012 Strategy Conference.

The Louisville-based company operates KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut and has 1.4 million employees in 140 countries.

Recently, Novak wrote Taking People with You (Portfolio, 2012), which was based on a leadership program he developed early in his career as a marketing executive for Pepsi. His formula: To make more money, build employee capability and satisfy more customers.

“It is a privilege to be a leader,” he said. “My mission is to teach people to lead the right way. Help people tap potential and achieve their dreams.”

Novak still brings lessons on leading that he discovered in his marketing past. “If we can solve the most important problems consumers have, you always have improved results,” he said. For example, through survey research, consumers told Taco Bell executives that their products were too messy to eat in cars—and 70 percent of the customers used the drive-through lanes. In response, Taco Bell employees started developing more portable products.

Similarly, when Novak became president of KFC, the franchise operation was in trouble, with unhappy restaurant operators and employees. To remedy the situation, Novak developed a structured employee recognition program that included an award called the “floppy chicken.” He would number floppy plastic chickens, write on them and sign them before giving them to employees along with photos of themselves with the chickens and the president, and $100 each, “because you can’t eat a rubber chicken.” Employees loved it; “teams started working together,” he said, and KFC saw improved results.

His executives now have their own personal employee awards: Pizza Hut’s top leader doles out plastic cheese heads.

Next, Novak began to address the concept of “boss.”

“If you see yourself as a boss today,” he warned, “You were born in the 1950s. You have to see yourself as a coach—and a coach tells people to be the best they can possibly be.”

His coaching tips:

  • Have the right mindset. Be authentic, with high self-awareness, and ask people you work with how you are doing. Know yourself and how others see you.
  • Be a “know-how junkie,” “an all-world ripper offer. I don’t care where an idea comes from,” he admitted. “Celebrate others’ ideas more than your own. Your job is to unleash the power of people.”
  • Everyone on your team counts. “value every job. People will not trust you if you do not trust them.”
  • Get people on the same page with you via a shared reality. “When everyone sees the same data, almost everyone wants to go in the same direction,” he advised.
  • Get your people involved. No involvement means no commitment.

Don’t just put your toes in the water of leadership, he concluded, “Jump in the pool and be a ripple-maker.”

Nancy Davis is editor of HR Magazine.

Related Articles:

Aaron Dignan: Games Can Engage, Educate Employees, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Connect with Employees: Tell Your Story, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Thought Leaders Forecast 2020 Workplace, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Corporate Leaders Urged to Be ‘Intrapreneurs,’ Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Thought Leaders Focus on Managing a Global Workforce, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

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