The man who ran Yum! Brands for 14 years has a simple way to judge a company

The man who ran Yum! Brands for 14 years has a simple way to judge a company
Image: Maxime Francout for Quartz
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In this series, Perfect Company, we are examining pockets of excellence in the corporate world. No single company is perfect, but together they show what the corporate ideal could look like.

When I was the CEO of Yum! Brands, I visited workplaces around the world. On those visits I tried to spot telltale signs that the culture of a particular office, warehouse, or restaurant was in trouble. I always looked closely for any displays of employee recognition, such as a trophy case or plaques honoring employees. It was a red flag if those awards were several years old and if employees used phrases like “Back in the good old days…” These subtle clues suggested that there was an opportunity for leaders to harness the power of recognition and revitalize company culture.

One of the most important tasks for any leader is to prove that “the good old days” are right now, by making people feel appreciated and respected in their daily work, and, in turn, energizing and focusing on the present and future. If you put people first by focusing on their capabilities and recognizing what they do, you satisfy more customers, and, in turn, build more business, make more money and drive results.

The key to achieving the perfect company is putting your people first. Rewarding good behavior is instrumental to driving change. Too many leaders focus on the outcome without thinking about how to get the profits. Rather than setting customer service goals based on cold metrics and insisting that your company become innovative, leaders and their businesses are best served viewing operations through the capabilities of their people. Putting people first has to be your most important priority.

According to a survey I commissioned in conjunction with my book O GREAT ONE!  A Little Story about the Awesome Power of Recognition and OGO (O Great One) Enterprises, an astonishing 82% of employed Americans feel that their supervisors don’t recognize them enough. That lack of recognition takes a toll on morale, productivity, and ultimately, profitability. In fact, 40% of Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often. Every leaders’ goal should be to use recognition on a regular basis and inspire others to do great things.

Whether it’s public or internal recognition, when channeled properly, recognition can make a difference for your employees and your company. I led this transformation as CEO at Yum  where showing genuine appreciation for employees’ achievements not only drove employee engagement, but also resulted in business success. I regularly handed out personalized wind-up walking teeth to employees who “Walk the Talk,” to connect people back to the company and show them how much they were appreciated. During my tenure as CEO, Yum! Brands doubled in size to 41,000 restaurants and established itself as a global powerhouse, going from approximately 20% of its profits coming from outside the United States in 1997 to nearly 70% in 2014. In addition, our focus on recognition dramatically improved team member turnover in our restaurants, which is a key factor in driving customer satisfaction.

Recognition can be a catalyst for results if it is directly tied to the important goals and objectives of your organization. The way in which you choose to show recognition to your team is up to you, but the key is to champion it every day and make it meaningful and authentic. When the core of your organization is appreciating the work your people do, you can build a culture of recognition that keeps your team happy and skyrockets your company to success.