The Art & Science Of The Skip Level Meeting
One of my clients contacted me recently to ask me to help her to get acquainted with skip level meetings. She had never done them, and wanted to start, but didn’t know where to begin. I thought it might be helpful to put together a primer for her here and share it with all of you too! I’ve been doing skip level meetings personally since around the turn of the century, and I’ve been recommending them to my coaching clients with great success for the last decade. They really are a great way to drive a lot of innovation and cultural improvement in any organization. In my experience, when done right, they drive value for the entire team from the top of the organization all the way through to the customer-facing levels of the organization.
What Is A Skip Level Meeting?
The further up you go in any organization, the more likely that you are to get disconnected from what is really going on at the level that faces your customers, your prospects, and your business partners. Nothing kills innovation like everyone in the organization telling the CEO what she wants to hear all the time. You can easily combat that by regularly engaging in skip level meetings. Those are meetings where you meet in person with people who report to people who report to you. In essence, you are skipping a level of reporting in the org structure and talking to the employee(s) of your direct report. They are a tremendous way to get closer to the business and find out where the friction points are, and why. You can gain a tremendous amount of clarity and valuable information from skip level meetings, and you should make it your practice to do them regularly, throughout the year.
How To Do Valuable Skip Level Meetings?
First, you need to prepare for the meetings, the first step is to sit down together with the manager who is not going to be involved in the meeting and let them know that you’re going to make skip level meetings a core piece of your efforts to build a great culture in the organization. You need to encourage the manager to do likewise and begin preparing to do her or his own skip level meetings soon too. You need to make sure that you make an ironclad commitment to yourself and to your Managers that these meetings are not going to be a witch hunt or a smear campaign. Communicate to your manager that you’re always looking to do the right thing, and just have transformational conversations with the rank and file employees to hear what they have to say about working in the organization at their level. They may have suggestions that will allow us to stay ahead of our competition and to create extra value for our employees, customers, and partners. They may also want to talk about their Manager’s Leadership Style, and they may also want to complain, make excuses, or point fingers at blame. Make sure you let your manager know that you’re going to have the diplomacy skills to use reframing, refocusing, and redirecting techniques to keep the conversation proactive and positive, and not let it turn into a venting and complaint session.
Keys To Success
Prepare your manager and prepare the employees you plan to meet with, by structuring an agenda that keeps the conversation proactive and positive. Go ahead and let your people complain, if they need to blow off some steam, but use the 30-second rule. If a complaint is in your lap, refocus the conversation by asking for a recommendation about how to resolve the situation that is leading to the complaint. You need to have your Manager’s back while caring deeply about the experience that the front-line employees are having. If there are problems, commit to doing the right thing to solve them, as quickly as possible. Try to keep the conversation at a high level and on a positive plane by spending most of the time on what’s going right, what do we need to do better to make your jobs easier, and what do we need to do differently to serve our customers better, and so on. Be positive, be proactive and be aggressive about keeping the conversation about moving forward and innovating. Perhaps most importantly, remember that if you have a great conversation with the employees and then don’t follow up with solutions or changes, they’re going to quickly lose faith in your leadership. Whatever you do, follow up and take action quickly about any opportunities and challenges you discover with your skip level meetings. Debrief with your manager and your team about what you’ve learned and what impact it has on the priorities list. Get aggressive about taking corrective action on any problems that are unearthed, and seize every opportunity that pops up as quickly as you can.
No Substitute For Integrity
Great leaders make skip level meetings a core of their culture refinement process. Great companies encourage their Executives and Upper-Level Managers to do skip level meetings and to do them with complete transparency and integrity. Everything you say and do will be under the microscope, so do it with integrity so you don’t lose the trust of either your manager or their employees. You can ensure that the skip level meetings become a good and valuable exercise for the entire team from top to bottom, by making sure every action and every conversation is consistent with and congruent with your first principles and your core values as a company. You’ve got to communicate openly and transparently. You’ve got to be vulnerable and ready to receive the news, whatever it is. You’ve got to be focused on providing solutions by quickly getting to the root cause of any problem, and you’ve got to listen deeply and make a great effort to understand the context of every piece of information you receive so that you can astutely solve the puzzle.
Skip level meetings are a fantastic tool for great leaders and terrific companies as they grow. They are also a growth accelerant when executed properly and handled with the right deft touch. You should prepare to begin using them personally with your team in your organization if you’ve never done them. Give us a shout if you’d like some help implementing them in your business, we’d be delighted to give you a hand.
Michael Beach is a Master Business and Leadership Development Coach, working with fast-growth Technology companies, developing executives and their leadership teams so that they can master the opportunities and challenges that come their way. Michael’s coaching and consulting firm has offices in the Twin Cities and in Tucson and has coached in Minnesota, Arizona, and Florida. If you’d like more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.