CEO’s – Stay Connected to the Shop Floor

By Ken Garner
In April 22, 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”.

Let me know if you agree, or disagree and why? Also, share ideas for making company-wide meetings interesting and productive. Let me know how you “stay connected”.

Ken

Ken Garner

President & CEO Ken Garner joined Epicomm – then the Association of Marketing Service Providers – in November 2008 as its President and CEO after a 33 year career in the printing industry – all with the same company. He joined United Litho, a heatset web magazine printing company, after receiving his undergraduate degree. Working his way up the corporate ladder from janitor/delivery driver he held a variety of jobs including V.P of Operations and V.P. of Sales and Marketing. He spent the last 12 years of his printing career as United Litho’s president. In 1994, he engineered the sale of the company to the Sheridan Group and became a member of its Leadership Team.

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