Skip-level meetings are an excellent leadership tool for a manager’s manager to get in touch with rank-and-file employees. In essence, a skip-level meeting can be a one-on-one with an employee or a one-to-many with a number of employees, depending on the size of the organization. The purpose is to give employees a chance to meet with their boss’s boss—without the manager in attendance—and have an unfiltered conversation about what is really happing in their departments and the company as a whole. Skip-level meetings provide an opportunity to discuss employee concerns, share ideas for improvement, discuss upward mobility options, and provide insights employees may not be aware of into how the organization operates.
Senior leaders will not want to jump into skip-level meetings without setting the stage first. Start by communicating your intent with the affected manager. He or she will likely be curious about your intent, if not suspicious, so take the time to explain the purpose of the meeting and what you hope will come of it, good or bad. Such meetings can be as enlightening for managers as they are for employees and senior leaders, and can raise awareness of issues that may not be on the manager’s radar. With the manager on board, have him or her express support for this initiative once employees are notified.
Next, schedule the skip-level meeting with the employees. It is important to assure them that no one is in trouble and this meeting is not an attempt to go around their managers. The manager is still the boss and the go-to person in the chain of command. Additionally, ask employees to come to the meeting prepared with questions of their own to make the best use of this opportunity. For the senior leader’s part, here are some sample questions to consider as you prepare for your next skip-level meeting:
What do you think of the company’s mission and vision?
What can we do better?
Do you have the knowledge and resources you
need to be successful?
What can the leadership team do to help you?
How do you feel about where the company is going?
Lastly, be sure to make the meeting a comfortable and relaxed environment. Consider providing refreshments, and make employees feel valued. Listen carefully and take notes. Do not feel compelled to solve problems on the spot, but politely explain how you will research the issue. Afterward, follow up with employees and provide an update on any issues you discussed. These actions will go a long way to foster transparency and encourage the sharing of ideas.
CALL TO ACTION
Schedule skip-level meetings with employees on a regular basis.
Compile a list of questions to ask employees during the meeting.
Create a plan to research issues identified through employee feedback.
Communicate the status of issues discussed with employees.
Note: These lists are not intended to be all-inclusive.
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