Ten Actionable Steps To Facilitating Great Skip-Level Meetings Part 1

10 steFour years ago, a client of mine--let’s call him Bob--received the engagement survey results of the eight teams that directly report to him.  Three teams were at 100% engagement, two teams were at 85% engagement and three other teams had dismal scores, between 30%-40% engagement. Bob tried working with the direct reports of the three lowest teams, to build engagement across their team.  When he realized that the leaders wanted out of their roles, he found better positions for them.

Next, he hired three really talented and hungry managers to take the place of those he had re-positioned.  They worked hard to figure out what to do to increase engagement, and they implemented a strategy.

After about a year, the three new managers received the result of the latest engagement survey.

Guess what happened?

There was NO change in the engagement scores across all 8 teams.

Needless to say, Bob was really concerned about the bottom three, though he was still pleased with the top five.  What could the bottom three be missing?

In an attempt to create an environment in which his direct reports could safely share what was happening, Bob hired me to talk to one of the newer hires, Eva.  Eva shared that her team was being asked to handle far too many calls that were not a part of their original mandate.  “Somehow all of these support calls get dumped on us,” she explained.  “We can’t possibly handle these calls and still meet our goals.  It’s like everyone on the team has two full time jobs.”

I could see that while Eva, the direct report, is still engaged and hungry, those under her are struggling.  So how does my client help those two levels below, while still empowering Eva and the other two managers?

Here are the steps Bob used.  I hope they work for you as well as they worked for him.

  • As the leader, sit down with your manager and get the manager’s buy-in for a Skip-Level Meeting.

It would be easy for the manager to assume that the focus of the Skip-Level Meeting will be to hear all the complaints about her and build a case for her removal.  But a Skip-Level Meeting is NOT about that.

A Skip-Level Meeting is about hearing the perspectives of those closest to the front-lines so that you, as the leader, can best coach the manager.

Make sure that your direct report is comfortable with this meeting and can enthusiastically support it.

  • If you haven’t communicated much with people two levels down, start doing this months before the Skip-Level Meeting is solicited.

In today’s there-isn’t-enough-time-to-do-everything-at-my-job environment, it is not hard to see why a leader may not have much of a relationship with those two levels below them.  Before having a Skip-Level Meeting, walk around, start conversations, create an air of safety, learn about what matters to those employees, whether it is work-related or not, and make sure that the team views you favorably.  This is a critical step.  It will delay the Skip-Level Meeting for weeks, but it is very important.

  • You and the manager send a joint email to the manager’s team.

Co-create a positive and encouraging email detailing why you want to have the Skip-Level Meeting.

Be sure to tell the team what is truly going well, and how you want to make things even better.  Let them know what you are looking to understand.  I would send the questions you are going to ask ahead of time.  See under 5) in Part 2.

In this email, stress that you want to make the meeting as safe a place as possible in order to learn what needs to be learned.  Your aim is to make things run more smoothly so you can better coach the manager for the benefit of everyone, and therefore you will keep everything they say in the strictest of confidence.

No one on the team will know anything that anyone else shared.  Instead, you are going to integrate all the responses from all the meetings, and pull out themes to coach.  Stress that it is important that you know the details so that you can best coach the manager.

  • Create a safe environment

Make sure that the space where the Skip-Level Meeting will take place is free of distractions.  You want to be fully present with the person to whom you are speaking.

Once in the Skip-Level Meeting, reassure the employee that you will not convey anything they share with you to the manager, or to anyone else on the team.  You want them to “let it rip.”  You are far more interested in reaching solutions than in assigning blame for anything that is off.

Stress that you don’t want this meeting to be focused only on the negative. You also want to celebrate what is going well, and find ways to strengthen that.

Recognize something that they do really well, and tell how it impresses you.

Chew On This:

  • What do you most want to find out from those on the front-lines of your business?

*This blog is a compilation of three different clients.  No one particular client is being singled out.