Most books by sitting CEOs seem like they are pure fluff pieces, or worse, pure vanity projects. As such, when I was contacted by a Penguin publicist about having a chat with David Novak, CEO of YUM! Brands about his new book, Taking People With You, I jumped at the chance to talk with him because he is so experienced and successful at scaling --Yum Brands! includes Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC -- which what Huggy Rao and I are currently studying. But I didn't expect much from the book. To my surprise, after spending a good hour and half with the book in anticipation of the conversation, I was stunned by how good it is -- Novak really digs into the details of what he does to sustain, grow, and keep improving this huge company, and how any boss can learn from what he and his colleagues do.
The reason the book rises above most others of the genre is that it is based on a program that Mr. Novak teaches himself about eight times a year to people at YUM!, which is also called Taking People With You. This book is based on that program, so it contains many of the specifics from this program, which as he told me, he has refined over the years as he teaches it about 8 times a year and, so far, it has involved about 4000 people from YUM! The three overall sections are: Get Your Mindset Right, Have a Plan: Strategy, Structure, and Culture, and Follow Through to Get Results. These headlines are typical, and certainly not original, but once I started digging into how the book deals with them, I was very impressed with the detail, and specific suggestions, and how each chapter contains such specific and useful tools. Consider a few "picture step-by-step change," "choose powerful versus limiting mindsets," "get to know people," "get whole brained," and there are self-assessment tools throughout. I argued in Good Boss, Bad Boss that the key to effective leadership, and one of the hardest things for any leader to achieve is self-awareness, knowledge of ones strengths and weaknesses and being in tune with what it feels like to work for you. Taking People With You impressed me so much because it shows how to become more self-aware as a leader, and spotlights the specific skills that every leader needs to be effective.
As for Mr Novak, I found him quite delightful, straightforward, and most efficient. I was especially struck with a few things he emphasized. First, when I asked him how he spent his time, he answered that developing great leaders in the company was his number one priority. Unlike so many companies who turn this responsibility over to professional trainers or worse yet outside vendors, Mr. Novak has developed and taught the Taking People With You workshop himself to 4000 people, and is now "cascading" it so his senior executives will teach it to others as well, so the plan is to touch 35,000 people in the company.
Second, when I asked him about bad behavior (as readers of this blog know, I have written quite a bit about how "bad is stronger than good"), he had a great line, something like: "We are a company that believes in recognition, and that means recognizing both good and bad behavior." When I asked for an example, he said that YUM! "is not the place for you if you think that you are better than everyone else." He argued this is especially important to the company, because if managers and leaders see themselves as better than the people who work in their stores or better than their customers, then it undermines their ability to understand customer's and employee's motivations and needs, and it causes them to keep their distance from people they should be interacting with and listening carefully to every day. (Note I was especially struck by this because I am reading Adam Lashinsky's wonderful new book Inside Apple, which certainly is a different culture, as it Apple appears to be a place where people are more or less required to think of themselves as better than others. I will write something on Inside Apple later in the week.)
Third, Mr. Novak also had some interesting thoughts on what he called "the tensions between centralization decentralization," and he argued that one of the keys to YUM!'s success -- which is doing incredibly well in China and other international markets -- is that, while there are multiple non-negotiable elements of the culture (I like "Be Restaurant and Customer Maniacs... Now!), they err on the side of decentralization. He emphasized this meant that in places like China and India, the country team is made-up of mostly locals who understand the culture and it meant customizing menus for local tastes such as selling more desserts in France and having more vegetarian choices in India. I was quite interested to hear him talk about this approach, because as we are studying scaling, this tension between having a core set of principles and a shared mindset in concert with the need to give people enough decision-making power to adapt to local conditions is something that comes up again and again, whether we talk to someone like David who is opening thousands of restaurants in China or a chef in San Francisco who has just opened his second restaurant that is in a much different neighborhood than the first.
Once again, Taking People With You with is a good read and is especially impressive because it is the rare leadership book that contains specific steps you can take to become more aware and more skilled at your craft.