Make Skip Level Meetings Work in Your Business

May 24, 2016

Meetings with managers and discussing performance reviews are important for employer-employee relationships. It gives both parties an opportunity for two-way communication to reward performance and discuss areas of improvement, career goals, business outlook, and other areas of interest and importance. These one-on-one meetings occur between a manager and a direct report. 

Skip Level

There is another type of meeting that many companies use and have found to be extremely beneficial. These are referred to as skip level meetings because the meetings actually "skip a level of management" giving an employee an opportunity to meet directly with his or her manager's manager (in other words talking directly to the boss' boss). Any number of topics might be discussed that an employee might not want to bring up with his or her manager such as department concerns, obstacles for growth, opportunities for advancement, company outlook, communication, or ideas for improvement. During these meetings, the manager of the direct report would not be present; therefore, "skipping" a level of management.

Skip level meetings, also, give the employee an opportunity to get better acquainted with upper management and vice-versa. Information can be revealed in these meetings that neither party might, otherwise, never know about. The employee can share with the manager information about his or her background and experience, career goals, and relevant personal information while the manager can share company information that might be of interest and importance to the employee.

Benefits

Skip level meetings have been found to be a very effective method of intra-company communication. If a lower-level manager leaves, upper management then knows something about departmental employees on a personal note rather than simply reviewing personnel records and performance reviews. Additionally, employees with high potential can be tentatively identified and observed, unfiltered feedback can be shared by both, and trust built not only at one level of the company but at several levels. Engaging employees at different levels helps build a cohesive team.

Scheduling

If a company is going to have skip level meetings, certainly one meeting a year is considered a must with two a year preferable. Whatever the time frame when a meeting is scheduled, the manager must adhere to it. When skip level meetings are held, employees look forward to the chance to have dialog with upper management and feel disappointed and unimportant when the meeting is canceled. It is equally important for the manager to know something about the employee before the meeting if they have never met before.

The Meeting

The meeting is a time when the manager can involve the employee on a higher level with the company and can use the opportunity to motivate the employee to maintain or achieve higher levels of performance regardless of the job position. By asking personal questions, open-ended questions, and allowing the employee to talk about anything while listening intently without interruptions or distractions is a powerful incentive for the employee to feel more aligned with the company.

Skip level meetings should always end on a positive note with follow-up from the manager. This might be a handwritten note or email and address unanswered questions or just what a pleasure it was to meet.

Questions

The meetings are not designed to "go behind the back" of direct managers, but are used to elicit different responses than might be received when the direct report has a one-on-one meeting with an employee. Some typical questions a manager might ask would be:

•    What do you see as minor and major issues in your department or the company? How do you think they should best be solved?
•    What are some of the top reasons you like working here? Conversely, what would you like to see improved to make working here more enjoyable? 
•    What type of support do you have in completing your job responsibilities? How would you like to see that improved or changed?
•    What are your career goals and how do you see that fitting in with the company? Where do you see yourself in five years?
•    What type of feedback do you get on your job performance and how often?
•    What can I answer for you about the company, your department, or anything else?

Try It

Managers at both levels must have an open mind about what is trying to be achieved with skip level meetings. They have proved to be a very effective means of communication within a company to build loyalty and cohesiveness when properly used. If your company has never used skip level meetings, perhaps it's time to try.