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The Power of Skip-Level Meetings

Skip level meetings can be an incredibly valuable tool for managers and employees alike. By providing opportunities for direct communication between employees and senior leadership, skip level meetings foster transparency, alignment, and rapport up and down the organizational chart.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what exactly skip level meetings are, why they’re so impactful, and how to run an effective skip level meeting that leaves everyone feeling heard and aligned. Whether you’re an employee looking to get face time with leadership or a manager wanting to empower your reports, read on to learn how to make the most of skip level meetings.

What Are Skip Level Meetings?

A skip level meeting is a regularly scheduled one-on-one between an employee and a manager who is at least two levels above them in the organizational hierarchy. For example, an associate meeting with their department head, without their direct supervisor present.

These meetings provide a forum for employees to discuss topics and voice concerns directly with someone more senior, while allowing leadership increased visibility into what’s happening on the frontlines. Skip level meetings are bidirectional, with both parties able to share feedback and insights that might otherwise get filtered out or miscommunicated as information travels up or down the chain of command.

Some key characteristics of effective skip level meetings:

  • Scheduled proactively, not just when there are problems
  • Recurring (e.g. monthly or quarterly)
  • Manager drives agenda, employee brings key discussion topics
  • Conversational, with two-way feedback
  • Notes and action items are captured and shared

Done right, skip level meetings give employees visibility and face time with leadership while helping managers stay connected to their extended team.

Why Are Skip Level Meetings Valuable?

There are many benefits that come from instituting regular skip level meetings, both for employees and for leadership.

For employees, the top benefits include:

  • Getting to know senior leaders personally
  • Sharing honest feedback and concerns transparently
  • Gaining visibility on career development
  • Understanding wider organizational priorities
  • Feeling more empowered and engaged

By meeting directly with leadership outside their typical reporting chain, employees gain a few precious hours of undivided attention from someone who can remove roadblocks, connect dots, and provide growth opportunities they may not have access to otherwise.

It’s a chance for the employee to share what’s working well, what’s not, where they’re struggling, and where they want to go long-term. Even if not every issue raised can be addressed, the act of skipping a level to voice concerns is empowering in and of itself.

For executives and managers, benefits include:

  • Taking the organizational temperature
  • Identifying rising stars
  • Hearing unfiltered employee feedback
  • Gaining context on middle management effectiveness
  • Building loyalty and trust across the org

Skip level meetings provide managers a valuable channel for sensing the health of their departments and gaining insights they wouldn’t hear otherwise. By getting to know their extended teams personally, leaders can spot high-potential employees early and address issues before they become problems. The sessions give executives direct visibility into middle management performance and help them identify managers who may need coaching or development. When employees feel their voice is heard by leadership, their trust and engagement increases.

Ultimately, skip level meetings enable the free flow of information across silos. They provide a release valve for frustrations, a catalyst for transparency, and a conduit for organizational alignment.

How to Run an Effective Skip Level Meeting

To fully realize the benefits of skip level meetings requires thoughtfully planning and executing each session. Here are some best practices to run an effective skip level meeting:

  • Set a consistent cadence. Don’t wait for problems to emerge before scheduling a skip level. Consistent meetings every month or quarter enable relationship building and information sharing in equal measure.
  • Let the employee drive the agenda. Ask them ahead of time which topics they want to discuss and any questions they have. Their agenda prepares you to have a meaningful dialogue.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Get them talking about their role, priorities they’re juggling, challenges they face, and goals they’re working towards.
  • Dig into growth areas. Ask where they want their career to go long term and what skills they want to develop. Outline ways you can support their growth.
  • Solicit honest feedback. Ask what’s working well and what’s not. Gauge their satisfaction with their manager’s effectiveness. Receiving critical feedback openly builds trust.
  • Share context proactively. Explain organizational priorities and news they should be aware of. Transparency builds engagement.
  • Connect them to people and resources. Introduce them to peers they should network with. Offer learning opportunities aligned to their goals.
  • Manage up their manager. Share positive feedback about their supervisor’s effectiveness. Reinforce areas where their manager is doing well.
  • Capture follow-ups and next steps. Maintain aligned expectations by documenting action items and next steps in a shared system like Supernormal. The employee leaves the skip level meeting feeling heard by leadership. You leave with an improved sense of your extended team. Capturing notes and follow-ups maintains alignment across both parties until you meet again.

Skip Level Meeting Questions

The right questions make all the difference in an impactful skip level meeting. Here are examples of questions to ask employees to foster an engaging, growth-oriented dialogue:

  • How do you feel about your role right now - what parts energize you and what parts frustrate you?
  • What are your top priorities and challenges you’re working through currently?
  • What excites you most about the team/company/industry right now?
  • If you could change one thing about your day-to-day work, what would it be?
  • Where would you like your career to go long-term? What skills do you want to develop?
  • What training or learning opportunities would help you grow right now?
  • What’s your relationship like with your direct manager? What do you value about their management style?
  • Is there an initiative or project you want to get more involved in? How can I help with that?
  • Who at the company do you admire and why?
  • What’s one thing we could do better as an organization?
  • What’s one thing we’re doing really well that we should keep doing?

The best skip level meeting questions drill down into the employee’s engagement, growth opportunities, and honest opinions. Preparing open-ended questions signals your genuine interest and gets the real conversation flowing.

Following Up After Skip Level Meetings

The real power of skip levels comes from what happens after. To complete the feedback loop:

  • Share meeting notes with the employee to confirm you captured the discussion accurately.
  • Log action items and follow-ups in a system you both have access to.
  • Provide updates on any progress made on action items.
  • Check in with their manager on how you can mutually support the employee’s growth.
  • Keep the conversation going by highlighting their contributions and achievements between meetings.
  • Build on the momentum by scheduling the next skip level meeting.

Consistency, transparency, and follow-through are crucial to realizing the ongoing benefits of skip levels over time.

Takeaways

When executed consistently and thoughtfully, skip level meetings provide a powerful mechanism for building relationships, sharing information, and maintaining alignment across the organization. By giving employees direct access to leadership and providing executives visibility into the frontline experience, skip levels create transparency, engagement, and growth.

But preparation is key - ask insightful questions, actively listen, capture follow-ups, and share notes to get the most out of each meeting. Make skip levels a consistent forum for employees to feel heard by leadership and for managers to gain an unfiltered view into their teams.

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