Topic: Leadership

Best practices for skip-level meetings

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What is a skip-level meeting?

Skip-level meetings are one-on-ones between a leader and employees that don’t report directly to them. Whether you are new in your role or a veteran leader, you understand the key to great leadership is constant communication. But sometimes organizational charts and middle management layers make it easy for senior leaders to get wires crossed about what’s really going on in a department. Skip-level meetings can enable more direct communication.

It’s no surprise that leaders should be having regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports, but there are also benefits to meeting with those you don’t get to work with or talk to on a regular basis. In a skip-level meeting, a VP, executive, or upper-level manager meets with employees that are more than one step down the chain of command. The goal of skip-level meetings should be to give employees the opportunity to talk about their experiences in the company and to connect with senior leaders, while allowing senior leaders to connect with employee problems, share solutions and provide increased transparency throughout the organization.    

Scheduling a skip-level meeting.

Skip-level meetings should be used to improve communication and trust between you, your employees, and the leaders on your team. They should not be used to gather information on the performance of middle managers. In fact, doing so will undermine the value and productivity of skip-level meetings. You should schedule a skip-level meeting whenever there is need for greater connection, improved communication, increased trust, or to eliminate confusion on your teams. As you schedule skip-level meetings, be sure to:

Tell your managers (your direct reports) – Alert the leaders that report to you that you will be scheduling skip level meetings with members of their teams. Your managers will feel more comfortable if you explain why you are meeting with their people and help them understand expectations and outcomes.

Tell your skip-level team members – If you haven’t built a relationship with many of your individual contributors, they may be surprised or concerned about your request to meet with them. Reach out ahead of time and set expectations of what they should expect. This helps you have skip-level meetings without causing fear or confusion among your people.

Schedule them in an efficient way – There’s only 24 hours in a day, so you need to be deliberate in scheduling skip-level meetings at the right frequency. You don’t want to end up with 10, 20, or even 100 meetings in the same week on your calendar. Utilize a continuous performance management tool to establish consistent, meaningful one-on-ones.

Questions to ask during skip-level meetings.

A crucial reason for skip-level meetings is to build trust with employees so they will feel more comfortable sharing problems and ideas with you in the future. While you are seeking direct answers to questions, also express how much you value and appreciate each employee and the role they play in your organization. Not sure where to start? Here are some prompts for questions you might consider:

• How are you feeling about work lately?
• What have you accomplished lately that you’re most proud of?
• What’s blocking you from being more successful than you already are?
• What tools/resources would be most helpful for you in your current role?
• What would you do differently if you were the leader of this team? Why?
• What are your goals and dreams during the next year here?
• How can you help contribute to the current goals of our company?

Following up.

After a few skip-level meetings, you’ll start to hear patterns emerge and understand more of what is happening across your teams. Be sure to follow up on what you’ve heard, work with managers to tackle problems, catch turnover before it happens, and continue to strengthen relationships with your people. And don’t forget to recognize employees for their contributions! Help employees know that they are doing a great job. A little bit of praise will go a long way in building strong relationships with all of your team members.