After spending three days at the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum, the educational confab built around EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, I walked away with one overpowering conclusion. Yes after hours of listening to great CEO’s like Meg Whitman of HP, David Novak of Yum Brands, Fisk Johnson of SC Johnson and chatting with many of the 250 regional entrepreneur of the year award winner’s it was just one thing. No list of hot trends, no complicated roadmap to success, no gee whiz new technology to go check out.
The one unifying consistent theme running through every presentation, every discussion, every motivational session, and nearly every acceptance speech at the awards podium was, drum-roll please….It is all about your people and how you motivate them, recognize them, harness their passions to a common mission, and how as a leader you can make their lives better. The message was packaged differently by each speaker and almost every speaker had a new book to convey their point. I have a reading list at the bottom of the books I would check out – but we already know the punchline – people, people, people.
David Novak has taken recognition to a place that on the surface seems almost absurd until you hear how meaningful the program has become to thousands of managers across so many different cultures, countries, and brands.
Think that Colonel Sander’s secret recipe was behind KFC’s global success? Nope, it is all about a silly rubber chicken award whose recipients treat like an Oscar. After taking this nutty form of recognition to insane heights David employed the same approach at Pizza Hut but used a cheese head you could wear as the medium for recognition and now uses a giant set of teeth at Yum brands. David’s point is that the medium doesn’t matter but the message is the most important one you can deliver to your team – They matter, you appreciate them, you recognize their great work, and that you do it in a way that everyone can see and celebrate.
Moving on from David and his rubber chickens and cheese heads we had a chance to hear from bestselling authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton of The Culture Works. Adrian and Chester had some crazy props of their own throwing stuffed carrots into the audience. These carrots, a not so subtle reference to the carrot and stick comparison of motivational methods, made the session fun and interactive but the message was very consistent with David Novak’s – recognition matters.
The best part of the session was when Chester, the self-proclaimed “apostle of appreciation” brought a man on stage to talk about his relationship with his wife of 20+ years. Asking the man how often he and his wife told each other they loved each other the man responded, “All the time, before I leave in the morning, before I hang up the phone, before we go to sleep.” “So do you think you can overdo appreciation?” Chester asked the audience. His point was clear. Show your people appreciation often and in verbal, visual, and easily recognized ways.
Charles Koch has a new book out, Good Profit, and took the stage with Maria Bartiromo to talk about the book. They did stray into some politics of course, but Maria started out by asking Koch about the business philosophy spelled out in the book. Koch summarized his philosophy down to one question, “how do I maximize the value I create for customers, employees, suppliers and communities.” In other words take care of the people involved and they will drive your success. I won’t cover the political questions here, but suffice it to say this is a guy who is taking all those “evil Koch brother’s” statements in stride and is confident in his company’s focus and most importantly in his employees.
There was a lot of wisdom to absorb in just a few short days at this event but given how often we have to experience death by power point I think Meg Whitman summed it up best by reminding us that leadership, “is not a left brained exercise on spreadsheets with lots of math and financial statistics, it is about the stories you tell and how you communicate.” It was also interesting that in spite of Whitman’s incredible business experience she mentioned that she did not fully understand this until running for public office, and losing.
All of these sessions were a great reminder that far too often we can dive into financial facts and figures while losing our audience. We must remember that if our discussions about financial or operational performance do not connect emotionally with our people in a way that motivates and aligns them with the mission then it is wasted time. I most often write about energy topics and I think this post is all about energy as well, in fact it is about harnessing the only energy that really matters, that of your people.
Reading List from this article: