Skip-level meetings are conducted by an organization leader to get to know people and obtain information from people who are one or more levels removed from him or her in the organization hierarchy. The “skipped” level of management is NEVER invited to skip-level meetings. One-on-one Skip-level meetings are great ways to get to know people in your organization, but can also be time-consuming and create the potential for meeting with some people and not others, which can create negative feelings throughout the organization. Instead, you can choose round-table skip-levels, where you invite everyone from a targeted group – not including immediate managers, of course.
The first, and most important, rule of thumb is that if you cannot be open to feedback, honest about your intentions, and willing to hear any comments without getting defensive or retaliatory – it is better to avoid skip-levels completely. Doing them poorly is worse than not doing them at all. Follow the general guidelines below to plan and follow-through on your skip-level group meetings.
- Planning: Decide on logistics – length of meeting, questions you plan to ask, statements you might make (keep them brief; this is not about you). Define the schedule for the meetings – making sure to schedule when most of the target team is likely to be present – and when your schedule is less likely to be subject to change. Rescheduling skip-levels without really good reasons reflects badly on you.
- Invitations: Prepare a written invitation to your proposed attendees. The invitation should identify the purpose of the meeting, general commitment to confidentiality, request the invitee’s participation, and request an R.S.V.P (attending this meeting should not be mandatory).
- Notify “Skipped” Managers: While immediate managers are NEVER invited to skip-levels, they should know that the meeting is taking place. Make sure you instruct the “skipped” managers to avoid questioning their team members about the skip-level meeting before or after it takes place. You may need to be very clear that they are not to create any situation that would cause a team member any degree of discomfort or fear as a result of participating in the meeting.
- Conduct the Meeting:
- At the beginning of the meeting, state the expectations of confidentiality. Make a promise to keep the discussion “in the room” and ask for the same promise from all participants.
- If notes are allowed, set the rules about that at the beginning (see information about sharing notes, later in this list).
- State the purpose of the meeting (even if it was in the invitation): For example, to identify issues, collect feedback, get to know people, provide a venue for members to ask you questions, create a conversation around organizational goals, get a better understanding of day-to-day activities, get a better understanding of the perceptions of team members, etc.
- If anyone else is in the room besides yourself and the invited participants (e.g., HR, secretary, etc.), define their role (e.g, taking notes, etc.) and obtain the confidentiality promise from them also.
- Be an extraordinary listener – Do not attempt to justify, explain, or defend yourself or any member of your leadership team during this meeting. When a participant is talking, ask questions for clarification only. If an issue comes up that you have no intention of changing or correcting, be open and direct about that.
- If you take notes during the meeting, or allow anyone to take notes during the meeting – put all the notes on the table and give all participants a chance to look at them. This engages some trust from the participants and gives everyone a chance to comment if notes appear to identify a speaker. If any notes are identified as inappropriate (e.g., identify or make it clear who said what) confiscate the notes. Have the notes summarized by someone outside the organization or someone who can be trusted to keeps specifics out.
- About five minutes before the meeting is to end, thank everyone for their participation. To let everyone know you were listening, summarize what you heard and took from the comments (do not explain or defend). Tell the group that you will review your notes and your thoughts and report back to the participants with additional comments and action plans by a specific date, which should be within a few days following the meeting.
- Give participants an anonymous feedback form at the end of the meeting. On that form, ask them if they felt the meeting was effective, if your behaviors were respectful, if they believe anything will happen as a result of the meeting, if they would be interested in attending similar sessions, how often they would like these meetings, etc. Most importantly, ask them for any additional comments or feedback. These meetings can be intimidating, especially if trust is already an issue in the organization. Ask for the feedback forms to be collected by one member of the participant team and returned to you by the end of the business day or by noon the next day, so you can include that information in your review.
- Review: Go over the information you collected. Spend time immediately after the meeting jotting down your thoughts. Be sure to avoid identifying anyone with their comments in your notes. Analyze the information, including the feedback forms, and identify potential actions you might take to create improvements. Also, write responses to clarify or explain things that cannot change. Remember, it is not always improvements employees want to see – it may be that they just need more communication.
- Action Planning: Define and document your action items (this should include what you will do differently, what practices you will put in place, and what policies will be amended, etc., along with time lines). Put that and your additional comments in a memo and share it with the meeting participants and the “skipped” managers. Be sure invite on-going feedback and comments. This will help create a culture of trust and open communication in your organization.
- Follow Up: Check in with employees periodically to review the action items and see if improvements were made and had the expected impact.
For assistance with facilitating skip-level meetings or coaching you on the process and follow-though, please contact Doreen Petty Coaching through www.coachingtheboss.com, via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone to 630-995-0317.