It is an undisputed fact that every employee in an organisation has a vital role to play. From an employee at the bottom rung of the ladder to those at the top, if there is a disruption at any level, it is bound to reflect on the bottom line of the company. To avoid any adverse effects across the organisational setup, it is always good to gauge employee morale from time to time. This can happen only if employees from all levels are able to communicate with each other in a well-regulated communication setup. Skip-level meetings are ideal to facilitate this.
Why Should You Do Skip-level Meetings?
“The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.” – Winston Churchill
Experts say that the key to a successful organisation is excellent communication. As the organisation grows, there are multiple layers of hierarchy between senior management and employees. In such cases, the absence of a well-designed communication architecture can affect the flow of ideas and information across the organisation. Skip-level meetings facilitate effective upward communication, especially in large organisations.
Skip-level meetings help employers to stay aware of the various things going on across the organisation and to gather information and insights from frontline employees. They enable leaders to learn the perspective of employees and build rapport. It helps them to know the challenges being faced by managers and mentor them to find a solution. They also let everyone know that their contribution – big or small – is valued.
What is a Skip-level Meeting?
A Skip-level meeting is a way to bypass the normal flow of information across the traditional corporate hierarchy.
Here, a VP or senior manager meets an employee who does not directly report to him. In doing so, he is able to tap into the best sources of information, namely grassroots employees. By skipping one or more levels, senior management is able to gain a better insight into employee perceptions and attitudes. Skip-level meetings also act as a bridge connecting the boss to the employees and help to create a comfortable environment where everyone feels heard.
Things to Note While Conducting Skip-level Meetings:
A real Skip-level meeting should be used to enhance the overall communication process and improve employee engagement. Most importantly, a Skip-level meeting should not be used as an opportunity to pull up managers for negligence or collect feedback from the employees about the manager to be used in the latter’s performance review.
To make a Skip-level meeting a success, establish an element of trust both with the manager and the employees. Given the relatively low interaction employees usually have with top management, one cannot expect them to open up immediately during Skip-level meets.
Hence, one must start establishing visibility months before one plans to hold skip-level meetings. It is a good practice to go around and strike a few casual conversations with employees every now and then. Make use of coffee breaks to interact with the employees informally.
This will make them feel you are one among them, and they will also be more comfortable in speaking openly during skip-level meetings. Also, give the employees advance notice about the date and time of skip-level meetings. This will help them be better prepared and also open up lines of communication quickly.
Another important aspect is that it is always better to get the buy-in of the manager before conducting the meeting. Explain to the team manager as to why you are looking to hold the meeting, what questions you will ask, and how you plan to use the information. This will prevent the manager from assuming that you are on some fishing expedition.
The Goal of Skip-level Meetings
The ultimate goal of a Skip-level meeting is to capture in-depth insights to enhance the decision-making process. This is possible because the information gathered during a Skip-level meeting is raw and unfiltered, and thereby helps you coach the manager and employees objectively in the event of conflicts or performance issues.
Skip-level meetings should also be conducted professionally and with a fixed agenda.
The goal should be to connect individual aspirations with the organisational goals and establish trust instead of finding faults with others. Skip-level meetings are not conducted to spy on your direct reportees, so asking for information about matters not directly related to work is by no means acceptable. The meetings should be conducted in a constructive and transparent manner.
The Art of Getting Skip-level Meetings Right:
1. Concentrate on a few key aspects or areas instead of going all over the place.
2. Spend the first few minutes breaking the ice. Engage in small talk to learn more about the employees whom you meet. For instance, one can ask the employees about their hobbies, their reasons for joining the organisation, their favourite beverage, their career aspirations, etc. Such icebreaker questions help to diffuse anxiety and make the employees feel at ease.
3. Make a list of core questions to be asked during the skip-level meetings. The questions should focus on improving the processes of the company.
Questions can be like:
- What are some of the improvements that would help you perform better at work?
- What should we accomplish jointly as a team?
- What are your ideas for new products or initiatives?
- Are there any aspects that you think the top management should be aware of or are there things that are being neglected?
- Which person in the company do you admire the most and would like to learn from?
- What would you like to change about the company?
4. Follow up each answer with ‘why’ and ‘how’ to gain deeper insights and unwrap the reasoning of employees.
5. Take notes when employees talk. This will give them a feeling that you are considering their talk seriously, and you care for their feedback.
In conclusion, skip-level meetings are a great way to fully get a complete picture of what’s happening across the organization. So do make them a regular habit (preferably on a quarterly basis) for best results. It is worth the time and effort.