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.

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“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.

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Group of worrkers

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.

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