Donning the cliched ill-fitting safety helmet, the sight of a suited and booted CEO wandering factory floors mixing it with front line staff is a common sight of strain and awkwardness.
And worryingly, these guys are the smart ones.
As the divide between top level management and the ‘men on the ground’ shows little signs of closing, is it time for CEOs to take the lead in enterprise social networking?
Recently celebrating its sixth birthday, social networking service Yammer, acquired by Microsoft in 2012, is transforming the pyramid of power into one digital platform - a platform where value is recognised, collaboration is encouraged and voices are heard.
“Smart CEOs of the past would walk the factory floor or spend a day working behind the counter to understand how their company operates,” says Mark Woodrow, Customer Success Manager, Yammer.
“But through Yammer they now have a digital platform which helps vastly improve the relationship between top level management and front line staff.”
With the brief of leading a company onto bigger and better things, many believe the success of a CEO lies in their ability to blur the lines between both ends of the business ladder.
For leadership is personal - a role which requires a human touch and a connection which delves deeper than the job itself.
“Appreciate everything your associates do for the business,” once said Sam Walton, founder of Walmart.
“Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.”
But in the hierarchical world we now live in, the voice echoing down from the top floor is seldom heard, trapped by a ceiling of seniority which can distance the workforce from the key decision makers.
As enterprise social networking begins to gain wider acceptance across businesses of all sizes however, the Yammer story tells a tale of strengthening the ties between CEOs and their workers.
Speaking at the TechEd NZ 2014 conference, in Auckland last week, Woodrow, along with fellow Customer Success Manager Luke Grange, says the way senior management engage with staff is changing, fuelled by the surge in social networking across enterprises.
“By definition, Yammer allows everyone to have an equal voice within an organisation,” he adds.
“There is no restriction as to who you can engage with on Yammer and this level of transparency can help CEOs better understand their workers.”
A private social network, Yammer collaboration software and business applications allow users to get connected to the right people within organisations, sharing information across teams and collaborating around projects so staff can go further - faster.
But as with any social networking initiative within enterprise, CEOs remain cautious of the benefits of open, uncensored communication between the boardroom and the work floor.
“Many organisations were reluctant to use Facebook and Twitter in the past but it’s now almost a requirement for any business,” adds Woodrow, who was quick to explain the different offering Yammer brings to the social table.
“We still get asked by some CEOs, ‘okay, how can I delegate this?’ and the beauty of Yammer is that you can’t.
“CEOs could no doubt task an employee to take over the account and moderate postings but Yammer is a tool where it doesn’t work to delegate.
“When staff receive company newsletters they understand it is mediated but Yammer encourages human interaction between CEOs and their staff.
“It’s better for the CEO to be on the run, posting messages with spelling errors and the like because that is real, and that’s human.”
Adding to the conversation, Grange acknowledges the initial fears of some CEOs, in that one wrong comment or posting could spell the end of their tenure.
“A lot of CEOs climb up the ladder and naturally they don’t want to fall off it,” he adds. “But when they say something wrong and they come back and apologise, the value to their reputation is actually tenfold because they are perceived as being human.”
Woodrow says Yammer coaches CEOs not to delete posts, rather insisting on an open approach to communication within the workplace, communication which in its raw form, can actually do more good than harm for organisations.
For more information regarding Yammer and the benefits for CEOs, check out Techday’s interview with co-founder Adam Pisoni at TechEd NZ 2013.