At a skip-level meeting, a senior manager catches up with an employee from a lower-level team without their boss present. A vice president, for example, could skip over the sales manager to meet with salespeople directly.
The idea behind a skip-level meeting is to connect with employees you may not interact with day to day. Let’s explore the benefits of – and tips for getting the most from – your skip.
One of the more effective tools that manager can employ is the use of a skip level meeting. Simply put, a skip level meeting is one where a manager’s manager meets with employees to discuss department concerns, obstacles, opportunities for improvement, etc. with a focus on maintaining and/or improving overall communication. For example, let’s say you have a Manager of Customer Service with 12 direct reports and this manager reports to a Director of Operations. A skip level would involve the Director of Operations meeting with the 12 direct reports of the Manager of Customer Service, without the Manager of Customer Service being present, in effect, “skipping” a level over them.
As mentioned previously, in their purest form, skip levels should be used to either maintain or improve overall communication and build more effective relationships with employees. Skip levels focus on opening and sustaining lines of communication, something which we all can agree is critical to organizational success. However, before going ahead with skip levels, it is important to distinguish what a skip level is (purpose) vs. what it isn’t, when to conduct them and what to discuss.
Most importantly, a skip level meeting is not an opportunity to get “dirt” on a manager. It is not to be used as an opportunity to solicit feedback to put on the manager’s performance review because you have been too lazy to manage them effectively. Treating a skip level this way defeats the whole purpose of the meeting and essentially renders the department level manager redundant and organizationally neutered. In order for skip levels to be effective, there needs to be an environment of trust established – both with the manager of the team and the employees themselves. If, as in the example above, you as the Director of Operations suddenly schedules a skip level meeting, without having spoken to the employees in the months prior, don’t expect them to open up to you! Likewise, don’t expect the manager of these employees to be receptive to the skip level idea either!
If you are conducting a skip level meeting, sit down with the manager of the team first. Explain to them why you are looking to conduct the meeting, what you are going to ask and what you will do with the information you obtain. You need to get the manager’s buy-in; otherwise they will think this is a witch hunt. Ultimately, the goal should be for you provide better coaching to the manager of the department vis-à-vis some of the information you obtain from the skip level. The skip level will also help open up (or keep open) lines of communication with the staff, establish better relationships and allow for a different perspective to be presented and shared. The information you obtain from the skip level can be discussed and shared and through 1:1 coaching, it will allow you to help the department manager be a more effective manager themselves.
How to prep for a skip-level meeting:
1) Get manager buy-in. To convince managers you’re not checking up on them, speak with them before you skip. Explain why you’re meeting with their staff, what you’re going to ask them and what you’ll do with the info you gather.
2) Chat with employees before you meet. If you arrange an impromptu skip with an employee you’ve never spoken to, you’re likely to scare them. To help them open up, get out of your corner office and say hello before you send the meeting invite.
3) Give employees prep material. Before you catch up, give employees examples of things you want to discuss. An agenda will also help you focus discussions on issues and away from talk about individuals.
4) Don’t pick and choose. Choosing office favourites to catch up with defeats the purpose of a skip. If you’re pushed for time, consider group meetings, which will also let you assess the team dynamic.
5) Keep meetings informal. People will feel more relaxed and willing to open up in an informal setting. So, think coffee shop or breakout area instead of that stuffy meeting room.
Here is a key point – if you, as the manager’s manager, have not had any type of regular contact or visibility with these employees for some time (or at all), you need to start doing that first before holding skip levels. So, get out and walk around, be seen, strike up casual conversations. Do this for several months before scheduling a skip level. Now, assuming that has taken place and you have established some sort of street cred with the staff, you should then make sure to provide an advance communication about the skip levels. Let them know the when/where/what/why in advance. This gives them time to prepare based on the goal(s) of the skip level. It is important you are upfront about the goals – i.e. open/maintain/improve lines of communication, etc.
The types of things you will want to discuss during a skip level meeting with the employees are things like:
- What works well in the department right now? (i.e. systems, processes, technology, feedback, etc.)
- What needs improvement and/or what obstacles are preventing them from being successful? (i.e. technology, top level support, more feedback, etc.)
- What is one thing, as a department, we need to START doing right away to be more successful?
- What is one thing, as a department, we need to STOP doing right away to be more successful?
- What is one thing, as a department, we need to make sure we CONTINUE to do in order to be successful?
- Alternatively, you can ask what they need MORE/LESS of from their manager and yourself in order for them to be successful as a department and in their roles.
Remember, the focus of the skip level meetings always needs to be maintained and feedback kept as objective as possible with a focus on issues NOT people. As the manager’s manager, it is up to you to draw inferences and conclusions from what you obtain in the skip levels and ascertain whether you have people or process issues that need to be addressed. At the conclusion of the skip level, you need to make sure that you follow up with the department manager as soon as possible to discuss the group feedback, what the trends are what the next steps are you both need to take
Just as importantly, if you had takeaways from the skip level, you need to get back to the employees with responses as soon as possible and practicable. This helps cement the trust that has been established, it gives credibility to you and the concept of the skip level and it truly reinforces the intentions of the skip level – to improve communication and build relationships.
Scott Boulton ( https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/art-skip-level-meeting-scott-boulton%2C-chrp-5948801065834024960 )
Good Practice ( https://www.goodpractice.com/home/ )
Header pic from Linkedin Learning: ( https://www.linkedin.com/learning/holding-skip-level-meetings/what-is-a-skip-level-meeting )