A few weeks ago I received a call from a colleague who wanted to discuss the pros and cons of Skip Level Meetings. Her company’s new CTO had approached HR for assistance in planning a series of Skip Level Meetings to get to know his new team. The leader had informed his direct reports of his plan and he reported to my friend that everyone thought it was a great idea. However, shortly after meeting with the CTO, my friend noted that one by one each of his direct reports dropped by HR and it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to their concerns about the “Skip Levels” their new boss wanted to conduct with their teams. To the credit of my HR colleague she immediately recognized that there was a significant disconnection between the new leader and his direct team and that the idea of implementing the Skip Level Meetings needed some further evaluation before plunging ahead.
So, my friend wanted to take a step back and talk through some of the fundamentals involved with Skip Level Meetings. After helping her assess the objectives of the new leader and the readiness of the team, I thought it would be a good idea to share some best practices on the HROD Blog.
What is a Skip Level Meeting? In simplest terms a Skip Level Meeting is held between an upper level manager and an employee or group of employees who are more than one level below them in the organization. In other words, the employee(s) are part of the senior leader’s team, but do not directly report to them. The senior leader meets with the employee(s) alone or with a neutral facilitator, but the direct (or “skipped”) manager of the team is not present. The “skipped” manager receives feedback from the meeting through a debriefing with the senior manager and participates in a joint follow-up session with the senior leader and the team.
Technically, a Skip Level Meeting can be an impromptu meeting between a senior leader and a single employee who meets the criteria described above, but for the purpose of this discussion we are talking about a more structured process.
Back to the Basics: The Two Essential Ingredients. As with any HR or OD process, the thoughtful practitioner must take care to ensure that they use the right tool for the right situation. This always requires assessment of the situation and the relevant factors that will either facilitate or sabotage success. The two essential ingredients that need to be assessed when considering using Skip Level Meetings are as fundamental as it gets: trust and clarity. Trust relates to the confidence the people involved in the process have in each other, while clarity is about having a clear and appropriate purpose backed by a sound, well executed process.
This week we are focusing on questions that will help to assess trust from the different perspectives of the participants in the Skip Level process. These questions are not intended to be asked and answered directly, but are areas you should tactfully probe as you assess whether or not a Skip Level Meeting is the right approach for a given situation.
Does the “skipped” manager trust that . . .
- the real purpose of the meeting is clearly stated and that there are no hidden motives?
- their leader is open to actively listening to the team and gathering information, even if the feedback may challenge some of the leader’s own beliefs or assumptions?
- the meeting will be well-organized and skillfully facilitated so that the feedback they receive is unbiased, reliable, honest and timely?
- their team will offer fair and balanced feedback to the leader?
Do the employees who are invited to participate trust that . . .
- the senior leader conducting the meeting is fair and open to really listening to them?
- the senior leader supports the “skipped” manager and is not trying to undermine the manager or to protect and defend him/her?
- their feedback will be taken seriously and that there will be meaningful follow-up?
- the facilitator will keep the meeting on track and make it a safe place to speak up?
- the senior leader and facilitator will respect the confidentiality and anonymity of what’s said, while presenting the themes of the feedback in a credible and accurate manner?
- their fellow team members will respect differences in opinion, the need for open dialogue and each person’s right to confidentiality?
Does the senior leader trust that . . .
- they have sufficiently thought through and conveyed the purpose of the meeting to the facilitator, manager and employees?
- the “skipped” manager is supportive of the process and will convey that support to their team?
- the “skipped” manager is receptive to hearing honest feedback and will follow-up with appropriate actions and dialogue?
- the employees view this as a constructive avenue for dialogue and will be open and engaged in the process?
If the answer is “yes” to all of the questions posed above, you can feel confident that the team has a good level of trust. Next week we will delve into the purpose of the Skip Level Meeting and why it is essential to clarify the purpose before getting started.