Once the senior leader feels confident that he or she is clear about the purpose and goals for a Skip Level Meeting and is satisfied that the participants have the requisite level of trust, it is time to move forward. Whether you use an internal facilitator (your HR partner) or external facilitator (if you feel the meeting may be difficult or the HR partner lacks facilitation experience), the following steps will ensure you have a well-organized, focused and effective experience.
NOTE: These steps are accomplished by the leader and HR partner working in tandem unless otherwise noted.
1. Review the process with the skipped leader if you have not already done so. This is critically important, especially if you value transparency and trust. By talking with the skipped leader before invitations are sent to employees the senior leader is able to:
- Ensure that the manager understands the purpose of the meeting.
- Clarify what the manager’s role is and is not in the process and follow-up.
- Gain the manager’s support of the process, which will encourage employee participation.
2. Develop and review the questions you want to ask.
- Brainstorm a list of questions or issues.
- Estimate the time you believe each question and the discussion might take.
- Review the list and prioritize. You want to have a manageable number of questions so that the meeting doesn’t go on too long (60-90 minutes is a good range to work with).
- Eliminate any questions that you are not willing or able to address.
3. Determine the meeting logistics (who, when, duration, place).
4. Have the senior leader invite employees to the meeting. The invitation needs to come from the meeting leader, not HR or the facilitator. Describe the goals, process and logistics in the invitation.
5. Prepare any meeting materials.
6. Conduct the meeting(s).
- Briefly review the goals and the steps, then ask your first question.
- Record all input and feedback in real time. You’ll need accurately recorded data for the next stage. This task can be handled by the HR partner or facilitator.
- Allow sufficient time at the end of the meeting to summarize the feedback to identify main themes that have emerged. Allow the group or individual to provide input and/or corrections as you synthesize the information into themes or topics.
7. Review the rough synthesis of the meeting, develop a clean summary and identify the key themes you want to cover with the skipped leader.
8. Debrief with the skipped manager and jointly create a plan of action to address any issues. Structure the de-brief in a simple “What’s going well” and “What could be better” format. A good Skip Level Meeting process allows both the leader and skipped manager to learn how they both impact the team. The senior leader needs to communicate a willingness to accept responsibility for his or her contribution to any negative outcomes, and encourage the skipped leader to do the same. This meeting may or may not be facilitated, depending on the outcome.
9. The senior leader then follows up with employees to review the action plan and to thank them for their participation. Follow up periodically to ensure the action plan is on track.