In the military, rank and professional etiquette are never in question. The military trains its recruits on military customs and procedures. Officers and enlisted personnel alike always wear rank insignia indicating their status within the unit. Junior enlisted will typically greet each other informally when talking one on one. The same is true for all ranks and grades throughout the military. When two individuals of different ranks are communicating the conversation is entirely different using Sir or Mam when addressing officers and the more senior individual using the rank of the subordinate to address them directly? The military also has strict guidelines on the subject of fraternization and many careers have been ended for violating these rules.
How to recognize corporate rank is a skill you will not find in any employee handbook or HR policy. In corporate America, the rules for improperly addressing or recognizing seniors carries fewer penalties than it does in the military, but the consequences of such behavior can still be bad. Corporate VPs and senior leadership may have offices in other facilities and may not have day-to-day interaction with subordinate employees. They may, however, show up at company functions such as conventions or trade shows so they can have face-to-face contact with customers.
For employees who are not familiar with these individuals, it is always wise to err on the side of caution during these situations. When meeting someone for the first time at any company function, you should introduce yourself by your first and last name and then the position you hold within the company. This lets people know who you are and what you do, and they will usually respond in kind and identify their name and position. Any corporate officer will be impressed with your ability to handle yourself in an unfamiliar environment.
High-ranking corporate officials may also want to be more in touch with their workforce and therefore more approachable in an open forum. This should never be interpreted as an opportunity to let professional etiquette fall by the way side. I have seen many employees and indeed close friends embarrass themselves by greeting senior company VPs with statements like, “What’s up, Bro”. Most corporate officers will simply laugh this kind of greeting off, but for anyone who is trying to make a good first impression, an introduction like this will haunt you for years to come.