How to prepare for a skip level meeting (for employees and managers)

Unlock the power of skip level meetings with our comprehensive guide. Dive deep into its importance, dispel common myths, and master preparation techniques for both managers and employees.

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Craft Author: Tom Norman
Tom Norman
Illustration of a pyramid and two people demonstrating a skip level meeting

The ping of an email notification and there it is: a message from your boss's boss, wanting to "check-in" with you. It can be pretty intimidating to be invited for a meeting with a senior manager, but a skip level meeting isn’t a cause for alarm. These meetings are designed to provide a great opportunity for both you and a senior manager to learn, grow, and create a bridge in communication.

In this post, we’ll share how both employees and senior managers can make the most of these meetings.

What is a skip level meeting?

A skip level meeting is an informal discussion where a senior manager meets with non-direct report employees, essentially "skipping" a management level to communicate directly. This meeting serves as a channel for the senior manager to understand the ground realities, get unfiltered feedback, and for employees to share insights, aspirations, and concerns directly with the top management.

What a skip level meeting is not?

1. A replacement for regular meetings

It's not intended to bypass or undermine the immediate manager, nor should it be seen as a review of this manager's performance. Instead, it's a meeting that's designed to supplement the communication process. Inevitably, some communication is lost when a manager reports about their team to their manager, so this is an opportunity to fill in the gaps and gain insights.

2. A gripe session

While concerns can be addressed, it's not solely a platform for complaints. It’s more about proactive feedback and collaboration. A senior manager wants to know both the good and the bad about the experience of work. If you do have concerns you'd like to bring up, presenting these challenges paired with potential solutions or improvements can make the conversation more productive.

3. A performance review

It's easy to feel like you're under the microscope during a skip level, but remember, it’s not about individual appraisal. The focus is broader, diving into team dynamics, challenges, and larger company strategies or objectives.

Why are skip level meetings important?

Skip level meetings are not just another corporate trend. They are a fantastic way to encourage a culture of open dialogue in a company where team members’ voices are heard directly by decision-makers.

For senior managers

  • Insight into ground realities: These meetings provide senior leaders a direct channel to the operational pulse of the company. It’s like stepping onto the floor and hearing firsthand the challenges and successes experienced of teams. For instance, a CTO may discover from a developer the real-world challenges of a new software integration, something that might not come up in a regular managerial report.
  • Employee engagement: Demonstrating an interest in open dialogue fosters a culture where employees feel heard and valued. This can significantly boost morale. An employee, after sharing a unique insight during a skip level meeting, might feel a renewed sense of purpose and connection to the company's mission. 
  • Identify issues early: Tapping into the frontline's insights allows leaders to spot potential pitfalls or hurdles before they evolve into larger issues. Imagine a team member highlighting a minor operational glitch that, if left unchecked, could lead to something more significant. Addressing it early can prevent bigger downstream issues.

For employees

  • Direct communication: This is a rare and valuable chance to communicate directly with those who make strategic decisions. Instead of hoping your ideas trickle up through layers of management, you can present them straight to the top. For instance, a customer service rep might suggest a change in communication strategy based on repeated customer feedback.
  • Visibility and recognition: Being chosen for a skip level meeting can be an indicator that your opinion and insights matter to the organization. This kind of recognition can be immensely motivating and foster a deeper commitment to one's role.
  • Understanding the bigger picture: Engaging with senior management can offer clarity on the company’s broader objectives and strategies. For instance, a marketing executive might gain a deeper understanding of why a particular product line is being pushed, allowing for more aligned and enthusiastic efforts.

Tips for preparing for your skip level meeting

For senior managers

1. Set clear objectives

Clearly define what you aim to achieve from the meeting. Whether you want to grasp the team's sentiment about a recent policy change or gather feedback on a new tool, knowing your objectives allows for a more structured and fruitful conversation. For example, a CEO wanting to gauge reactions to a recent merger might frame questions about how the process has affected daily workflow.

It can be really beneficial to collaborate on a Skip level meeting agenda in advance of the meeting. This helps both parties show up prepared and makes sure there’s a roadmap for the meeting to make it as effective as possible.

2. Maintain confidentiality

Building trust is key. Assure employees that their feedback will remain confidential and that there'll be no repercussions for honest input. If, for instance, a team member shares concerns about a supervisor, they need to be confident that this won’t lead to workplace tension.

3. Prepare open-ended questions

Questions that encourage expansive answers often yield the most insightful feedback. Instead of asking, "Are you happy with the new software?", you might ask, "What challenges or benefits have you experienced with the new software?"

4. Stay open and receptive

Foster an environment where feedback, even if critical, is welcomed. Remember, the goal is growth and improvement. If a product manager points out potential pitfalls in an upcoming product launch strategy, consider it valuable foresight rather than criticism.

For employees

1. Make a list of the things you like

Before diving into areas of improvement or concerns, highlight what's working well. This sets a positive tone for the conversation and provides balance. It might be the supportive nature of your team, a recent training program, or the new tools introduced. Sharing what you appreciate emphasizes your holistic view of your role and the organization.

2. Gather some suggestions for improvement

Constructive feedback is invaluable. While it's essential to highlight challenges, pairing them with actionable suggestions elevates the conversation. Instead of just mentioning that team meetings tend to run long, maybe suggest a more structured agenda or the use of time-tracking tools.

3. Be clear on your goals and progress

Demonstrating a forward-thinking attitude can be impactful. Share where you see yourself in the company's future and how you're progressing towards those goals. Highlight any milestones you've recently achieved or courses you've undertaken to further your skills. This not only gives senior leaders insight into your professional journey but also showcases your commitment and ambition.

4. Gather data

Data speaks volumes. Whether you're discussing the success of a project or pointing out a bottleneck, concrete numbers and examples provide weight to your statements. If you're suggesting the introduction of a new tool, showing how it could lead to a 20% time savings based on current manual processes can make your case more compelling.

Conclusion

Skip level meetings are a really powerful source of insights within a company. For employees, these meetings present a golden opportunity to gain clarity on organizational strategies, showcase their insights, and enhance their professional visibility. For senior managers, it's a chance to tap into the frontline pulse, ensuring that decision-making is grounded in real-world challenges and opportunities.

When approached with preparation and the right intent, skip level meetings can be transformative. They not only strengthen bonds across hierarchies but also pave the way for a more agile, responsive, and harmonious organizational culture. By understanding their true essence, setting the right expectations, and preparing adequately, both employees and senior leaders can harness the immense potential of these meetings, turning them into catalysts for positive change and mutual growth.

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