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Skip Level Meeting: Guide and Tips

What Is A Skip Level Meeting?

Great managers care deeply about their employees and their needs.  Good, and smart, organizations will continue to promote great managers into roles which allow them to utilize their managerial skills effectively.  But sometimes, some great managers may be a level or two removed from their employees.  That’s why skip level meetings are a great way to continue to interact and communicate with all employees under a manager’s purview.  Butt, what is a skip level meeting and why is it so important?

In its simplest form, a skip level meeting is where a manager’s manager meets with employees.  For example, let’s say the Manager of Marketing has a team of direct reports of 7 and this manager reports to the Director of Marketing.  A skip level meeting would be when the Director of Marketing meets with the 7 direct reports of the Manager of Marketing.

Why They Occur?

Skip level meetings are an important management tool.  They should be used and should occur to maintain or increase communication, build and promote rapport, and establish stronger relationships between the parties.

Skip level meetings should occur on a semi-frequent basis to continue to foster the relationship.  They should be scheduled well in advance to not surprise the employee and worry them surrounding the nature of the meeting.

All meetings should have a purpose.  No one likes unnecessary meetings and meetings which take away from actual work.  To that end, upper management should provide a purpose to the skip level meeting.  Is it simply a meet-and-greet?  Or is it to discuss how to increase employee morale and retention?  Or more simply, is it to discuss the department more generally?

While most skip level meetings are meant to, “determine the organization’s effectiveness – by getting an honest assessment from employees at all levels”, it can be more narrow and focused on a particular issue or problem.

Skip level meetings do not need to follow a template or set structure.  Upper management should utilize this crucial time to meet the needs of the department and their employees.

What They Are Not

Skip level meetings are not an appropriate time to solicit feedback or critique on the mid-level manager.  Feedback and critique on the manager or an employee should be done in a different situation and should never be included in the skip level meeting.

Skip level meetings should be a point of trust and openness.  By soliciting negative feedback on a manager, you place the employee in a defensive situation and in an uncomfortable predicament. Furthermore, you erode trust between yourself and the manager if word comes out that you are soliciting feedback, whether positive or negative.

What To Do Before Setting-Up A Skip Level Meeting?

The most important aspect of a skip level meeting is trust. This trust should flow from the top-level manager, through the mid-level manager, down to the employees.  This means that no skip level meeting should be set or conducted without a discussion between the top and mid-level managers.

This discussion is important for a number of reasons:

  • Trust
  • The top-level manager needs to maintain trust and confidence in their mid-level manager. By including them, the two can discuss what points should be addressed and how to approach certain employees
  • Transparency
  • The top-level manager should be honest and transparent with the mid-level manager on why they would like to meet with the employees and what will be discussed. Together they can come-up with a plan of action to improve or enact on a task.
  • Support
  • The top-level manager should get the mid-level manager’s support before meeting with their employees. Otherwise, they risk letting the mid-level manager believe the meetings to be about their own performance.

In-addition, before meeting with employees, you should begin having regular, informal levels of communication with them.  Stopping by their desks to chat, sitting with them at lunch, and attending department meetings will help you build rapport and trust.

You shouldn’t simply jump to a skip level meeting without enacting those changes beforehand.  Employees will find your intentions disingenuous and will be less likely to open up to you.

What To Discuss At A Skip Level Meeting?

The skip level meeting should revolve around the employee and the department.  You want to build rapport and trust, but in a meaningful and actionable way.  You don’t want to simply get the information you want.  Rather, you will want to build a long-lasting level of trust and encouragement.

  • What is or isn’t working well in the department?
  • Follow-up, how can you help make things better?
  • What improvements can be enacted to increase efficiency and time-spent?
  • Follow-up, what obstacles are they facing day-in and day-out that you can help with? Is it technology access, knowledge, more headcount?
  • What is something as a department that we need to start doing right now?
  • What is something as a department we need to stop doing?
  • How can you help foster their growth and career?
  • What will make the employee and the department as a whole happier?

Skip level meetings are an integral part of any successful organization.  They allow for access and information to flow from employees to upper management without any mediators or middlemen.  Skip level meetings allow for upper management and employees to speak honestly and openly.  When done correctly, these meetings can help an organization and a department improve efficiency and increase employee morale.

While we’ve previously discussed what a skip level meeting is and questions to ask your managers manager, we’d like to fully discuss how to setup the agenda for the skip level meeting.  While a skip level meeting is important to an organization’s growth, equally as important is the agenda and purpose of the meeting.  Upper management should be cognizant to ensure their employees are prepared for the meeting and provide them with an agenda at least a week before the meeting.

Keep It Personal

When meeting with employees, upper management should be sure to keep the topics personal and relevant.  Discuss topics and issues which impact the employee and the department as a whole.  Utilize the time together to get and gather feedback and to get a sense of employee wants, needs, and frustrations.

As a manager, you should focus on the employee and what you can do to assist them accomplish their core roles and responsibilities.  As a manager, you have the power to enact and effect change that can lead to better and more positive outcomes.

Don’t Gossip, Don’t Be Vindictive

 The exact opposite purpose of a skip level meeting is to gossip or “get dirt” on mid-level managers.  These meetings are meant to enhance the department.  It is not the time, nor is it appropriate, to gossip or discuss any problems about the mid-level manager.

Similarly, the skip level meeting is meant to be anonymous and confidential.  What happens in the meeting should stay in the meeting.  As a manager, you should not be vindictive against any employee, no matter what they say during the meeting.  Don’t take their frustrations or problems personally.  In order to be a good manager, listen to their problems and enact changes to increase morale and employee happiness.

Leave Time For Questions and Be Prepared With Honest Answers

Your employees may be nervous or skeptical to speak honestly with you.  This is a normal reaction.  It is your job as the manager to ease their nerves and make them feel comfortable.  Don’t dive right into the hard-hitting questions.  Start off by asking the employee basic, easy questions, like how long their commute is and how long they’ve been in the industry.

Once the employee begins to open up and gets more comfortable, feel free to go into the more difficult questions.  Again, the employee may not be fully honest from the get-go and may continue to show some resistance throughout, but you should create an atmosphere or comfort.

But don’t forget to allow for time for the employee to ask their own questions.  Leave ample time to listen to their frustrations and hear their questions.  Answer honestly and to the best of your abilities.  If you’re unsure of how to answer or don’t have the answer, don’t lie.  Let the employee know that you will follow-up with the appropriate sources and will let them know.

Always Follow-Up

As a senior manager, your interactions with your managers employees may be limited.  So, take advantage of the time you do have with them.  If you say you will follow-up on something make sure you do.

Keep the skip level meetings set on a reoccurring, once a quarter schedule.  Try to go out of your way to say hello and check-in on the employees.  Let them know that you are there and have an open-door policy to address any of their needs.

 

Great Skip Level Meeting Questions

Skip level meetings are a pivotal part of any successful organization. They allow for a more clear, open, and transparent level of communication between management and employees.  Done correctly and often, skip level meetings can enhance working relationships and foster new growth and opportunity.  However, in order to have an effective skip level, you’ll need to ask great skip level meeting questions.

Skip level meetings are generally considered as meetings between a manager’s manager and their employees.  We discuss in-depth what skip level meetings are and how to effectively hold one here.

From the managers perspective, skip levels meetings are necessary to ensure that there are open lines of communication between themselves and their manager’s employees.  This communication can help bridge any gaps in the process and fill any needs that may have been overlook.  Great skip level meeting questions come from both your manager’s manager and yourself, it should be a two-way street, with both parties asking questions.

Done correctly, skip level meetings can enhance working relationships, place a level of importance on each individual’s needs and concerns, and lift the overall department.  Skip level meetings should be done frequently as to continue to build rapport and communication.  Ideally, the frequency should be kept to once a quarter, with additional meetings added if needed.

Skip level meetings should not come as a surprise and should be discussed by the manager to their employees before the meeting is scheduled.  This should be done as-to not let the employee worry about the nature of the meeting and to give them adequate time to prepare for their own questions.

Employees should take full advantage of all skip level meetings.  These meetings are their opportunity to discuss their thoughts, ideas, and opinions in an open, inviting atmosphere.  While we are going to discuss what should be asked and discussed in skip level meetings, it is equally as important to go over what shouldn’t be discussed.

Woman sitting looking at laptop in meeting

Things to Not Discuss As An Employee

From what we have discussed, skip level meetings are crucial and integral to promoting a healthy, open, and transparent working environment.  They allow for honesty and open, clear communication between employees and upper management.

Done correctly, skip level meetings are a great thing.  They shouldn’t worry you and are definitely not a bad thing.  You should be excited and embrace the fact that your upper manager is scheduling a skip level meeting.  This meeting will give you time and direct access with your manager’s manager.  You will be afforded time to bring up your thoughts, opinions, and even frustrations.

While skip level meetings aren’t a bad thing, there are some things that you should be careful when discussing.  As-with all things in life, caution is needed, and it is best to be prudent in how you broach and approach certain topics.  We’ve compiled a list below on things you shouldn’t discuss at your meeting and topics that you should be a little more careful on when discussing.

Great skip level meeting questions do not veer into personal or human resource specific questions.  Those questions should be avoided and should be discussed separately with your manager or a human resources professional at the company.

  • Criticism or feedback on your manager
  • The skip level meeting is generally done for the good of the entire department. Employee’s should focus on the department and its needs and refrain from discussing their manager and any criticism they may have.
  • Gossip or rumors about the company
  • Equally as important is that employees should refrain from discussing gossip or rumors about the company. The financial health, layoffs, or other company happenings should be avoided.  Rather, focus on your job and your department and offer advice and suggestions that can help contribute to those successes.
  • Salary and pay
  • Salary is always a touchy subject. However, the skip level meeting is not an appropriate time or place to discuss salary or pay.  This should be discussed with your manager at a separate time.
  • Promotion or increase in responsibilities

Similar to salary discussions, any discussions of a promotion or increase in responsibility should be under your managers purview.

Your Manager

We’re going to start with the elephant in the room.  While skip level meetings are meant to be a time to discuss your thoughts, ideas, and frustrations, you should not use the time to vent about your direct manager.  These meetings are not meant to be a therapy session.  The relationship you have with your manager, whether good or bad, is not a concern or a topic of the meeting.

Absolutely avoid discussing any negatives or issues you may have with your manager.  Those conversations should occur with your manager directly.  Remember, the topics you discuss with your manager’s manager will most likely go back to your manager.  Don’t say anything you don’t want to get back to them.

Talking Too Much

While the meeting is supposed to give you a chance to discuss your thoughts and how to enhance the department and your team, you should avoid talking too much.  You want to listen to your manager’s manager and allow them ample time to discuss their thoughts and what ideas they are going to implement.

Not Preparing

Perhaps one of the deadliest corporate sins is not preparing or preparing inadequately.  You should review the agenda, if there is one, and be ready to discuss the topics presented.  Though you should feel free to veer off the agenda, especially towards the end of the meeting, you should be prepared to address the topics within the agenda.

Asking The Wrong Questions

Let’s throw out the idea that “there are no wrong questions”.  In this instance, there absolutely are wrong questions.  The questions you ask should revolve around the team and department you work in and how you both can enhance and improve the team.  Asking questions about payroll, promotions, or time-off are widely inappropriate and should not be discussed at a skip level meeting.

Only Talking About Yourself

Remember, the purpose of a skip level meeting is to, “determine the organization’s effectiveness – by getting an honest assessment”.  The conversation and purpose should center around the team and the department.  That doesn’t mean you can’t discuss yourself, you absolutely should.  It simply means that you should focus on the larger picture.

By focusing on the larger picture and the team and department, you show yourself as an integral player on the team.  You can provide honest, factual points and show that you are always thinking on ways and how to improve the team.

By only focusing on yourself, you make it seem that you are only concerned with yourself and your own success.  As a rising tide lifts all boats, so too does a rising and growing department.  By helping the team and the department, you help yourself.

Discussing Personal and Confidential Information

One of the worst things you can do in a skip level meeting is divulge personal or confidential information.  While chances are that your manager’s manager may be privy to this information, it is not your place to disclose it.  Don’t talk about the latest gossip or personal happenings on the team.

Things to Discuss As An Employee

  • Departmental needs
  • Skip level meetings are a great opportunity to discuss departmental needs. Whether it’s access to new technology or additional training sessions, these can be brought-up without hesitation.
  • Process improvements
  • Discussing current processes and ways to improve are great conversations and topics to discuss. Doing so shows a level of initiative and out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Employee retention and morale
  • Perhaps one of the more difficult topics to broach. But discussing employee needs and morale is a topic that management cares deeply about.  Providing some ideas and options on how to increase retention and morale are ideas that will be taken seriously by management.

Question mark with lights inside on its side

Questions to Ask Your Manager’s Manager

Preparedness is a must when going into the skip level meeting.  You should be prepared for common questions that may be asked, in addition to a list of questions you would like to be addressed.  Doing so will show your manager’s manager that you’re prepared for the meeting and that you take their time valuable and appreciate their commitment to the department.

These questions have been generalized for a wider audience, so feel free to tweak to your needs.  Don’t feel that you have to ask every question.

  1. What are your goals for the department this quarter? This year? And five-years from now? How do you think we are going to reach those goals?
  2. What skills or knowledge do you see as being critical to success at the company?
  3. How can we increase department-to-department knowledge-sharing and collaboration?
  4. What efforts are currently underway to ensure departmental success and acknowledgment?
  5. What efforts are being taken to ensure employee growth, happiness, and retention at the company?
  6. What short and long-term trends do you see that could be worrisome for our department or company? How can we avoid or preempt those trends?
  7. How can we integrate new technologies within our work processes to increase productivity and efficiency?
  8. What short-term tasks can we focus on for immediate results?
  9. How do you plan to continue to promote from within and create an environment of inclusion for all?

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