Review: O Great One! A Little Story About The Awesome Power of Recognition by David Novak

o-great-one-by-david-novak-and-christina-bourgThis review first ran in the Aug. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

O Great One! A Little Story About The Awesome Power of Recognition

By David Novak

Portfolio / Penguin


It costs nothing to say thank you.

But an inability or unwillingness to give thanks should cost clueless senior managers their jobs, according to David Novak.

“I wanted to tell this story because I’ve seen how impactful recognition can be,” says Novak, author of O Great One! and the cofounder, former chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands – one of the world’s largest restaurant companies with more than 1.5 million employees in 125 countries.

“I’ve also witnessed how devastating it can be when it’s absent from the life of an individual, a team and even a large organization. Considering that recognition can have such a hugely positive effect, it’s amazing to me that it’s still vastly underused in business, and also in life. I think that’s a crime.”

You don’t delegate recognition to Human Resources or pawn it off on a task force that’ll spend a year dreaming up mandatory and standardized ways to have fun on the job.

Recognition is your responsibility and first priority as a leader, says Novak who’s been named CEO of the Year by Chief Executive, one of the 30 best CEOs by Barron’s, one of the top people in business by Fortune and one of the 100 best performing CEOs in the world by Harvard Business Review (add mensch to the list, as Novak is donating 100 per cent of the profits from his book to the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center).

As a leader, you cast a long shadow across your organization. If you want people to continue doing their jobs well then you need to recognize a job well done.

“You have the power to use recognition to make a difference in people’s lives each and every day. You have the power to show people that someone is watching, that someone cares and that what they do really matters. You have the power to help individuals, teams and organizations reach their potential.

“If you use recognition on a regular basis, you can inspire people to do great things. And the personal satisfaction you’ll receive as a result, when you see others reach their full potential with your help…well, that’s when the real magic kicks in.”

Novak sets out 10 guiding principles for motivating and recognizing employees:

  • People won’t care about you if you don’t care about them.
  • The best way to show people you care is to listen to them. Make the time to hear and acknowledge what they have to say.
  • A great idea can come from anywhere. “A good idea is simply a good idea no matter where it comes from, so view everyone as a potential source,” says Novak.
  • Recognize great work and great ideas whenever and wherever you see them. Don’t wait until annual performance reviews or monthly meetings.  Recognition should be spontaneous, real and from the heart.
  • Make recognition a catalyst for results. Recognize the values and behaviors that you want adopted across the organization. “Reward the right things and more of the right things will happen.” According to Novak, the only time to celebrate years of service is during retirement parties.
  • Make it fun. “Everyone will want to be involved in recognition if you create shared experiences that are fun for everyone, and not just for the person being recognized.”
  • Make it personal. Instead of handing out the usual certificate, plaque or card, personalize awards to make it more meaningful, memorable and fun.
  • Recognition is universal. Everyone wants to be recognized for a job well done.
  • Giving recognition is a privilege. “Don’t think of it as just another item on your to-do list. When exercised the right way, giving recognition is a privilege that feeds people’s souls and makes them feel great about themselves.”
  • Say thank you every chance you get.

Novak makes his case by telling a fictional story about a reluctant CEO who uses the power of recognition to win over a skeptical executive team and save a faltering family business. Given Novak’s track record as a celebrated CEO, his advice is worth heeding.

“If you give people the recognition they’ve earned, if you show genuine appreciation and acknowledge the unique things people have to offer, then you will drive real results. And at the same time, you will lift the spirits of everyone involved.”

Jay Robb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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