One big challenge senior managers who manage other managers face is getting too removed from the daily realities of individual contributors in their organization. A leader who is disconnected from the realities of their teams is a placeholder leader and won't be effective over a long term.
Holding skip level meetings is a good tool for senior managers who want to stay in touch with the realities of their organizations. This post will give an overview of goals and benefits of skip level meetings and describe how a senior manager can utilize skip levels meetings to keep a finger on the pulse of their organization.
In a regular one-one-one meeting, a manager meets with their direct usually every week to:
- Review action items from the previous week
- Share positive or constructive 360 Feedback from teammates and peers
- Identify, understand and provide support for a direct report's goals
- Share important team and organizational updates, and upcoming changes
- Learn more about and connect with their direct at a more personal level
In a skip level meeting a senior manager meets with directs who report to a manager under that senior manager. A senior manager's high level goal here is to get a feel for how people in their group are actually doing and take the necessary actions to remediate potential issues. There are common topics and themes between regular one-on-one meetings and skip level meetings but there are also important differences.
Benefits of Conducting Skip Level One On Ones
- Get private and personal feedback on how people feel about their manager. Companies usually send surveys a few times a year to collect feedback on how people view and value their managers but these surveys are only done once or twice a year and do not encourage much personal feedback.
- Build relationships and trust within your organization. You don't get to spend much time with people who don't report to you. Skip levels allow senior managers to build these relationships and in turn makes individual contributors more comfortable with reaching out to their senior managers if they need to.
- Build a strong sense of what is happening in your organization. See if there are common problems or successes and find potential ways to connect different groups of people to accomplish a task.
- Holding skip level meetings show that you value your people's opinion. By investing your time and effort in meeting with individuals who are not your direct reports you are taking the first and most important step toward showing that you value their opinions. Be sure to follow up on action items that might come up during your skip level meetings to show accountability.
- Get thoughts/feedback on ideas. A senior leader can use skip level meetings to find out what other people think of some ideas they are considering. Skip levels provide an opportunity to test these ideas on a smaller group of people without going through the big step of rolling them out to a larger organization.
Before Scheduling Skip Level Meetings:
1) Inform managers who report to you:
Holding skip level meetings with people on your managers' teams without telling your managers is going to make them anxious. Instead you need to be proactive and let them know why you are holding these meetings and how you will use the output of these meetings to help your managers with their job and their teams. Make sure to let your managers know that they might get some questions from their team members after these skip level meetings. Occasionally team members might hear conflicting information from a senior manager and need clarification. You should encourage the direct to bring up these topics and ask for clarification. Tell their manager to do the same.
2) Explain to individual contributors why you will be holding skip-level meetings with them:
Team members might be surprised to see a meeting request from their manager's manager if they were not previously informed about skip level meetings. Avoid causing anxiety and give them a heads-up that you are scheduling a skip level meeting with them to get a chance to know them better, as well as to learn what is working well in your organization and what can be improved. Skip level meeting should make sure individual contributors feel happy and supported at the company.
3) Make your skip level meetings sustainable:
How much investment you can make in skip level meetings will depend on the number of people in your group and your schedule. Consider coming up with a systematic approach that allows you to hold these meetings throughout the year in a sustainable way. For example, you can decide to invest 3 hours/week in your skip level meetings.
If you have a large organization and can't meet with everybody, you need strict prioritization about who you hold skip level meetings with. Some suggestions on who you should prioritize:
- Top-performing employees with high potential
- Valuable employees with high retention risk
- Women, minorities, and other under-represented groups.
Holding Effective Skip Level Meetings:
Skip levels are not a small investment for senior managers who already have busy schedules. Make these skip level meetings effective by knowing areas that you want to spend time on and being an active listener.
Areas to focus on in your skip levels:
- Team member's relationship with their manager.
How are things going with your manager?
- Feedback on company goals and strategy, and team strategy.
What do you think about our (company/ group / team) goals for this year?
Are you clear on how the project you are working on helps the (company / group / team) achieve its goals?
- Learn about happiness and engagement
What are you excited to work on this quarter?
Anything exciting you are working on? What are you most excited about?
- What issues are at the top of their mind.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing at the moment?
Is there anything blocking you from getting your work done?
As you dive into these areas and learn more you are likely to hear some concerns from the team member. In almost all cases encouraging this team member to share their concerns with their manager is the right thing to do. Find out what actions their manager has taken to address their concerns. Don't commit to taking a particular action unless you also speak with their manager to get a more complete picture of the situation.
Just like in regular one on ones, your skip level meetings will not be effective without accountability. To instill accountability in your meetings you need to make sure that action items that come out of your skip level meetings are followed up on. Due to the less frequent nature of skip level meetings, action items are usually followed up on via email or a shared document.
As in regular one-on-one meetings, there are some don'ts for skip level one on one meetings.
Skip Level Meeting Bad Practices: Don't Do These!
🗓 Don't reschedule or cancel your skip level meeting often
🧾 Don't use your skip level meeting for a project status update
🤔 Don't set the meeting agenda DURING the meeting
🗣 Don't do most of the talking
It is very difficult for senior managers to have a good sense of what is happening in their organizations unless they invest time and effort into getting a better pulse on their people. Skip level meetings are a tool that allows senior managers to get insight on their organization. This allows them to focus their time and efforts in the right areas for better results for their teams and company.