What is a skip-level meeting?
As defined in an article by Jared Lewis, "In a skip-level meeting, upper-level management bypasses mid-level management to talk directly to non-managerial employees." The manager meets with employees to try to understand their team members better, build trust in the organization and get a better sense of the work environment challenges facing your front-line employees. Skip-level meetings for employees are just as important as they are for managers, and both should be well prepared before the "skip level meeting." to get employee feedback. Effective skip level meetings are an effective tool to improve organizational communications, employee engagement, and great one-on-one meetings.
Skip Level Meeting
There is considerable evidence that great skip level meetings (or "skip meetings") have multiple potential benefits. These include everything from helping them make better long-term strategic decisions by understanding their customers better from the people who interact with them, improving employee engagement by establishing more personal relationships, and quicker resolution times by getting closer to the source. Teams that are more engaged with their managers tend to be higher-performing teams and have a better sense of alignment, focus, and purpose.
You can follow these four concepts to decide what to discuss in a skip-level meeting with an employee.
Skip Level Meeting Agenda Template:
1. Understand the Purpose.
According to Lewis, "The primary purpose of the skip-level meeting within an organization is to determine the organization's effectiveness -- by getting an honest assessment from employees at all levels." These meetings are crucial for day-to-day operations and allow the upper manager to remove the most significant challenge impacting performance.
Skip-level meetings allow senior managers to talk to employees freely without fear of retribution. Senior leaders can speak directly to their employees instead of through messengers. It will enable them to see whether their direct reports are truthful or hiding issues. The 1 on 1 format allows for collaboration of the senior manager with the individual contributor and should allow both the manager and the employee to feel comfortable and have an open and honest conversation.
2. Ensure Anonymity.
The bedrock of skip-level meetings is that employees can speak freely without fear of retribution. If employees fear retaliation, they will not be as open, undermining the whole point of skip-level meetings and the insight they provide. This is especially important if the senior leader hopes to learn about mid-level managers' performance and effectiveness from their direct reports.
Assure your employees before you start the process that they will be anonymous. Put them at ease so they won't face a backlash if they speak their mind. You can only get the full benefits of skip level meetings when this occurs.
Skip Level Meeting Video
3. Plan Ahead.
According to Lewis, "Conducting skip-level meetings requires considerable advanced planning. Since skip-level meetings are effective because they provide upper-level managers with information normally not available to them, planning is especially important -- and those executives planning a meeting need to establish a specific purpose."
As with any meeting you run, think and plan how your skip-level sessions will go. Remember that you need to ensure total anonymity for each employee involved. You need to provide the skip level meeting agenda ahead of time to the employee as they may be nervous meeting with "their direct manager's boss" or "manager's manager," and allowing them the time to prepare would be helpful. Please get in the mindset to be open to all kinds of feedback and take them as positive ways to make your organization more effective; many employees will feel nervous - like they are preparing for an executive team meeting.
Think about the purpose of the skip-level meetings. Is it to determine managerial effectiveness, organizational alignment, organizational issues, etc.? It can't be all the above, so please make sure that you keep some specific questions on the area you are focusing on, but be able to adjust if the team member has something specific that they think is necessary.
Once you know the purpose of the meetings, you can plan and map out your process for effective skip-level meetings. If used properly, these meetings are a significant part of working on a highly productive team, and you never know where innovative ideas will come from.
4. Consider & Manage Risk.
It would be best to keep the whole purpose of skip-level meetings in mind. Lewis says, "Skip-level meetings should not be used as an opportunity to conduct a witch hunt against mid-level managers." With the talent war raging through the economy now, it is more important than ever to have as many touchpoints with your team as possible to attract and retain top talent to win the talent war.
These meetings are for senior leaders to gain a fuller understanding of their organization from a high level. Try to keep risk low for both employees and managers so that they can fully contribute to the process. This is another opportunity for managers to spend time with the organization and hear the issues "from the ground up." Employees should also be ready with skip level meeting questions to ask their boss or manager. The better prepared both sides are for the conversion, the more effective it will be. Skip meetings can be missing from your employee engagement and team accountability culture. We've compiled a list of the best skip-level meeting questions to share with you so you know what to discuss in skip-level meetings.
Skip-Level Meeting Questions:
- What is some good news that you'd like to share?
- What do you believe are the most significant challenges our team should be addressing?
- Given the company's long-term strategy, how do you envision our team’s role evolving?
- Based on your observations, how can I grow better to support our immediate team and the larger organization?
- What trends or changes in the market should we be paying attention to or learning from?
- When you envision our company five or 10 years down the road, what are the key milestones you hope we’ve achieved?
- Given the challenges our industry faces, what keeps you hopeful?
- What projects at work have you most enjoyed working on?
- What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
- What is the biggest issue facing your role in the organization?
- If there was one thing that you could "fix" in the company, what would it be?
- How would you change things if you were in my shoes?
- How could we better leverage your unique skill set?
- Would you recommend working here to your friends?
- Why not?
- What is keeping you from being more successful than you already are?
- What are your goals in the next 3 to 5 years?
- What is your favorite book, podcast, or movie?
- How can we help you achieve those goals?
- What would you do differently if you were the manager of your team?
- Would you happen to know the company's goals?
- What can we do to make you happy with your role?
- What do you need from the leadership team?
- Would you happen to know how your team's goals support the company?
- What are your goals for the next few years?
- Is there anything else that we should have discussed?
- Is there anything else that I can do to help you and your team?
- Do you know how we can help you work with your manager?
- What is your favorite part of the company?
- What is your least favorite part of the company?
- When have you felt most proud of being part of this organization?
- Are you happy with your role?
- If you are meeting with a manager, ask them if they are having regular meetings with their direct reports.
- What do you believe the biggest challenges facing our team are right now?
- What progress have you seen in the department over the last quarter and why?
- What initiatives or projects should we launch next to create more value for the business?
- How can we increase collaboration between different departments and teams within the organization?
- What do employees need from management to succeed, and what changes must be introduced to achieve this goal?
- How can we improve customer service across all our products and services?
- Are there any new technologies that could help us create more efficient, cost-effective processes within our company?
- How are we tracking against Senior Executives' goals in terms of performance and innovation?
- What strategies have worked best for our team so far to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction levels with our brand?
- Are there any areas where greater focus is needed for us to stay ahead of competitors regarding customer experience, product quality, or technological advancement?
- Are there any project risks your team currently faces that need additional support from higher-level management or other departments outside ours?
- How can we ensure open communication channels between different levels of staff members to promote a collaborative culture within the organization?
- Does everyone on your team have the necessary skills for their role effectively, or do certain positions require additional training or further development opportunities like employee workshops or conferences?
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Additional Rhythm Systems Resources for Team Meetings:
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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images