CEO’s – Stay Connected to the Shop Floor

By | November 3, 2014

Through my career I have worked for various CEO’s who have allowed themselves to become disconnected from the realities of working on the shop floor. Sometimes this happened by “accident”, while in some cases the CEO purposely worked to avoid developing and maintaining a relationship with those who executed the work orders and got the work out. In my opinion, this represented a lack of leadership sense and typically resulted in an organizational culture needing frequent repair. And if the chasm between senior management and shop floor workers grows too wide the results can bring a business to its knees.

I’ve heard all the excuses… “I’m too busy. There’s just not enough time”. “I hire supervisors to handle the workforce”. “If I get too close, I won’t be able to make the hard decisions about who stays and who goes”. Like most excuses, it’s not justifiable and likely represents either a lack of leadership experience, a lack of understanding, or a blatant disregard for the organization’s most valuable asset. As CEO you are responsible for creating and maintaining a positive and constructive organizational culture. This is not a responsibility you can delegate or outsource.

Some of you who lead small organizations that require your daily presence on the shop floor may think this message is not for you. Not so fast. Some of the CEO’s I referred to above actually started out being “owner operators” dividing their time between managing and operating shop floor equipment. But, as the company experienced success and grew more of their time was spent with “strategic” responsibilities until the time came when they no longer understood the challenges encountered by those who “get the work out”.

Like all critically important things, staying connected requires diligence, commitment, and a plan. Part of that plan should include the responsibility for managing the internal messaging required to keep all employees informed. Does each of your employees know the reason why your company exists, what makes it unique, why customers come and why they go, and how what they do impacts the company’s success or failure? How often do they get updates regarding the company’s performance? Do birthdays or service anniversaries get recognized? Are there celebrations to recognize individual and organizational achievements? All of this can be captured in a company newsletter, but that still falls short of what you need to do. You need to regularly communicate all this information, and more, in face-to-face periodic company-wide meetings that you organize and lead.

Here is a typical agenda for a company-wide meeting that should take place at least once a quarter and can be accomplished in 90 – 120 minutes –

  • Review of company mission, purpose, goals and objectives…
  • Review of progress against all goals and objectives –
  • Review of simplified P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow (this represents a great teaching opportunity).
  • Review of new customers and lost customers with explanations about why they came and why they left.
  • Review of critically important initiatives and projects being introduced in the coming quarter.
  • Introduction of new employees.
  • Recognition of service anniversaries.
  • Q&A.

This represents an investment of 8 hours of communication and connection time over the course of a year. Few commitments will provide a greater return on investment. What should you expect? How about higher morale, higher productivity, less employee turnover, and higher levels of customer satisfaction?

Wait, you’re not done. Paying attention to employee communication and education should not only happen four times a year. Get up from behind that desk and spend some time on the shop floor. Be seen. Talk to folks during breaks and in between shifts. Try and learn a little about their families and interests away from the plant. Show your “human” side. Let them know they are more than just cogs in a wheel.

Does it make the tough decisions about staffing easier? No. But that’s why you get paid “the big bucks”

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2 thoughts on “CEO’s – Stay Connected to the Shop Floor

  1. Gina Danner

    Ken, your points are well made. The quarterly meetings are important, but can still sometimes separate the leadership from the floor.

    From my perspective I try to walk the shop floor at least once a day and if possible twice a day. Wednesdays usually means a rendition of “It’s HHHUUUUMMMMPPPPP Day”. I make a point to be exceptionally upbeat. I make sure and check in with the supervisors as well as each team member. I try to chat a little bit about personal stuff, ask how their equipment is running, and is there anything I can do to help them.

    It’s amazing that when I don’t do that, I have people concerned that I’ve been sick as well as wanting to know what big deals I’ve been working on. Everyone notices.

    The flipside of that is that it shouldn’t just be the CEO, but ALL the supervisors AND sales people need to develop this type of a methodology. I need my supervisors to be leaders whose teams will not just follow me “into battle” but will go to the wall for the individual supervisor whenever needed. I need sales reps who realize that the people on the floor are the ones responsible to sustaining their commission checks.

    A great company is led by a BUNCH of great leaders.

  2. Ken Garner

    I agree with all of your comments. Yes, interaction with the shop floor can’t be relegated to a “once every quarter” routine. A daily dose of MBWA is a great way to remain in touch.
    And, yes all supervisors and sales folks need to do the same. They will follow your lead as you model the behavior you expect and create the culture you desire.
    Sounds like you understand and appreciate the value of effective leadership.


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