“Trust is a risk game and leaders have to ante up first.”

—from The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner

Once you are confident that there is a sufficient level of trust among the various people involved in the Skip Level process, you are ready to focus on the second essential ingredient: clarifying the purpose and goals of the Skip Level Meeting.

Before I continue, I want to clarify the goals of this post. This discussion is intended to focus primarily on Skip Level meetings between a group of employees and a senior leader. If you are interested in evaluating the benefits of Skip Level meetings between a senior leader and one individual, Matt Blumberg has a nice post on this topic on his “Only Once” blog.

Why is clarifying the purpose of the meeting(s) so important?  As with most activities in life there are benefits and risks. Defining what the senior leader wants to take away from a Skip Level Meeting allows the facilitator to structure the meeting to accomplish those goals and maximize the benefits while managing the risks. Focusing on the goals from the onset will also help the facilitator draft questions designed to keep the conversation on point. Goals also set realistic expectations for the participants and the manager who will be absent from the meeting. Failing to clarify the purpose and the goals may yield a meandering and unfocused waste of time instead of the honest and focused dialogue you want to achieve.

5 Great Uses for Skip Level Meetings.  Skip Level Meetings can be a powerful tool to gather new insights and information. They can also positively reinforce employee engagement by demonstrating to the team that their senior leaders are listening to them and value their input. Below is a short list of ways we have successfully used Skip Level Meetings. While specific areas of focus will offer unique benefits, every opportunity provides a common benefit: first-hand, unfiltered feedback from the perspectives of people who may be closer to certain organizational realities than leaders at higher levels.

Number 1: Schedule a Skip Level Meeting following a change in an important process, policy or event that has impacted the group. Not only will you gain valuable insight into what went well and identify things that could be improved, you will also be able to:

  • Demonstrate to the team that you care.
  • Clarify any points of confusion and close information gaps.
  • Assess the real impact of the change on the team and its customers.
  • Get a first-hand read on how the change has impacted morale.
  • Reinforce organizational values of openness and transparency.

Number 2: Schedule a meeting with a project team to discuss a current project.  This allows you to:

  • Identify potential obstacles to the project’s success.
  • Identify hidden opportunities that the team may have uncovered.
  • Ensure timelines are realistic and resources are allocated appropriately.

Number 3: Schedule a meeting to discuss key initiatives and processes. This is an excellent opportunity to get a fresh look at the internal workings through the eyes of others. You will also:

  • Get a first-hand view of what is working and what is not working.
  • Gain a better understanding the real problems the team faces and initiate team problem-solving.

Number 4: Schedule a meeting to learn more about the general dynamics with the team and their leader. This will give you the opportunity to:

  • Provide relevant, anonymous feedback to the leader for his or her growth and development.
  • Learn something about how your own leadership impacts the group.
  • Build or reinforce open communication and transparency in the organization by opening communication channels.

Number 5: Schedule Skip Level Meetings as an alternative or an enhancement to the employee engagement survey process. This will:

  • Provide first-hand information and insight into team morale, business issues and general suggestions.
  • Offer a less expensive, yet structured mechanism to gauge employee morale for organizations for whom hiring a custom survey vendor is too expensive.
  • Allow the leader to follow up and get deeper insight into specific areas that have been identified through an engagement survey.

3 Situations When Skip Level Meetings Should Not Be Used. Skip Level Meetings can be valuable experiences, but there are situations when Skip Level Meetings should be avoided. Skip Level Meetings should not be used:

  • As a tactic to gather information to deal with an existing issue.
  • As a tactic to undermine or dig up dirt on the manager.
  • When there is a lack of trust among the participants, confusion about the goals and/or the leadership is not committed to following the process, which includes appropriate follow-up.

Next week we’ll complete the series with a look the the Skip Level process.

Photo Credit: © Miflippo | Dreamstime Stock Photos &Stock Free Images

In a world filled with uncertainty, there’s one thing you can always count on.

Harassment Prevention training videos are invariably boring.

The combination of soap-operatic writing, rookie actors and third-rate talking heads is only part of the problem. The greater problem is that these videos are primarily produced and marketed for HR leaders more interested in a cheap, reusable form of CYA instead of stimulating the minds and hearts of the audience. Some even stick these dreadful little films into their onboarding schedule, not giving a hoot about the need to engage new people in mission and values, but very concerned with getting the new employee’s signature on a legally valid document.

Only recently have people become aware that the concept of harassment applies to more than sexual behavior. People can be illegally harassed on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, disability, gender identity—in other words, any human demographic identified as a protected class under federal, state or local law. This dawning awareness gives us the opportunity to rethink harassment prevention training by looking for common threads that link all forms of harassment and building training programs around fundamental principles that govern human relationships. Learning based on this approach is much more likely to stick with learners . . . and hopefully prevent the video companies from producing more unwatchable cinema.

The other weakness inherent in the video-only approach (which also applies to web-based programs) to compliance is that is devoid of interaction. Harassment is a controversial and often emotional topic and people need to talk about it! Creating a learning environment where people feel safe to express thoughts and feelings that may be politically incorrect is necessary to get people to face what’s lurking under the surface. Allowing people to discuss uncomfortable subjects helps them work through their thoughts and feelings, transforming resentment about “having to go to school” into a productive and meaningful use of one’s time. The truth is you can’t get people to respect each other’s differences by showing them a video or having them read a policy. You can only achieve that in the real world of human interaction, because that’s where differences are experienced.

Such an approach requires competent facilitators who can demonstrate openness and curiosity while consistently upholding the core values behind harassment prevention without getting preachy. Those values have to do with respecting differences, acknowledging and accepting boundaries and appreciating diversity as a gift. It’s all about The Golden Rule and its modern variation: treat people as they would want to be treated.

But it’s also important that the facilitators have a sense of humor and know how to have fun with the topic. After all, we are talking about the law, and as we all know, the law is filled with stories of human missteps, both comic and tragic. If you want to get through to any audience in our stimuli-obsessed culture, you’re going to have to be entertaining, and great trainers realize that theatre is just as important as content in keeping the audience awake and engaged. This is even more important in training that people are forced to attend, because they enter the classroom expecting the worst. When you give them an experience that respects them as adults, respects their time, and makes them think, feel, laugh and learn, you can make much more of an impact on risk reduction than you can by boring them to tears.

The HR Difference offers Respectful Relationships, a fully-customizable harassment prevention program taught by experienced facilitators with years of real-world experience investigating harassment and discrimination complaints. Our facilitators have been delivering harassment prevention and diversity programs for over fifteen years in organizations large and small throughout the United States, and have HR executive experience in the great state of California.

Photo Credit: © Netris | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

This may sound like sacrilege, but I rather like attorneys. They’re usually very bright, intelligent conversationalists with excellent command of the English language.

However, when it comes to dispensing legal advice in a wrongful discharge or employment discrimination suit, even the wittiest barrister only has so much to offer. There are only three possible outcomes to a lawsuit, none of which are desirable and all of which involve significant risk: you win and pay a lot of money, you lose and pay a lot of money or you settle and pay a lot of money.

Once the battle has ended, it’s not uncommon for the defendants to gripe about the legal costs. Blaming the attorney for high legal costs is about as effective as blaming your favorite sports team for blowing $10M on a sore-armed quarterback or reliever. You can blame The American legal system with its loopholes, contradictions and obscurities and get the same result. With no one to blame, then what is management to do?

It’s really very simple. Do the right thing and treat the potential plaintiff with dignity and respect.

People don’t file lawsuits because they’ve found a loophole. They file lawsuits because they’re angry, because they’re hurt, because they’ve had their self-worth and dignity stripped away by a manager who handled the situation like a blockhead with no emotional intelligence.

Company policies designed to ensure consistency often make things worse. When someone is hurt and angry, they want to be recognized as an individual, not classified as part of the system. The classic case involves a situation when someone has used up his or her FMLA allotment and the company has a policy of automatic termination. The company defends the action on the basis of consistency. The employee looks at it differently: “I lost my job because I got sick.”

Now, which position do you think will play better in front of a jury?

Some HR people also make things worse by trying to compensate for the nagging doubt that the executives think HR is the refuge for wimps who couldn’t make it in the real business world. They compensate by getting tough, scripting terminations to eliminate any possibility of dialogue and attempting to intimidate the employee through the absolute logic of the company’s position. Obviously, HR people failed to watch Star Trek while growing up and missed the fact that Spock ticked off a lot of his co-workers by applying cold logic at a moment demanding empathy.

It has been said that termination is the psychological equivalent of death and no one wants to feel alone when they die. Adopting a strategic position and creating an atmosphere of formality in a termination discussion almost always guarantees that the employee will respond in kind: through an attorney who will formally communicate his or her strategic position. No matter what the outcome, the company will spend more money and suffer damage to its reputation because it failed to recognize the employee as a living, breathing human being.

The funny thing about many near-termination situations is that often both parties have the same goals but fail to communicate them well. Sometimes the employee wants to leave as much as you want the employee to leave. If you can find a way to make that easier for the employee, you could create a situation that works for both of you.

But you will never do that unless you get off your legal and tough-guy high horses and relate to the employee as one human being to another. The employee is in a pickle; we’ve all been in pickles at one time or another, so surely you can call up a bit of empathy when you start the conversation. Ask the employee, “What’s going on with all this? What’s your take on this situation?” Do all the things you should have learned in Management 101: listen, paraphrase and check for understanding. Share your perception without accusation, as if you are simply offering a different perspective. Dialogue as equals and work towards a solution that meets the needs of both parties. Do all you can to ensure that the employee leaves with dignity intact, self-worth restored and responsibility accepted (if the termination involves an alleged misdeed). This is achievable only if you treat that person with respect.

An honest conversation to end the employment relationship is far more preferable than entering the surreal world of legal action, where truth takes a back seat and the dynamics shift from dialogue to high-stakes poker.

You can lose a lot of money at the poker table.

Photo Credit: © Atee83 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos