“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.