5 Secrets To Great Skip Level Meetings

Done well, skip level meetings can inspire, engage, motivate and inform the skipper, skipee, and even the skipped. On the other hand, poorly run skip level meetings inadvertently bring on diaper genie feedback and diminish trust.

In my latest role, most of my skip level meetings were even more tricky because I was skipping across many layers or holding focus groups in other companies for which I was the client. There was the added fear that the reps would tell me something that their boss’s, boss’s, boss didn’t want me to know. And yet, I wanted to know it, so we could help. Tricky.

How to Hold Great Skip Level Meetings

  1. Prepare – It’s arrogant to go into a skip level meeting without doing your homework. Understand what the team is doing really well and know what concerns to anticipate. Know something about the people attending, have a few specifics to recognize. Bringing along a note taker enables you to fully engage in a dynamic conversation, but don’t overwhelm the room with extra spectators.
  2. Make it Personal – I always start skip level meetings the same way. I invite participants to share their name, and “what makes them a ROCK STAR in their current job.” People like to share what they’re good at, and it’s beautiful to see what matters most to them.
  3. Relate Through Stories – Skip level meetings are not only a great way to find out what’s on people’s minds, but they are also a great way to reinforce key messages through strategic storytelling. Share your stories, and invite them to share their stories then summarize the themes. For example, “tell me a story of when you turned around a really frustrated customer.” Or, “do you have a story of your team leader was most helpful to you?”
  4. Ask Positively Framed Open-Ended Questions – Framing your questions in a positive light makes it more comfortable for employees to share ideas for improvement.
       •  What’s the best part of working here?
       •  How do you know how you’re doing? In which areas would you like more feedback?
       •  If you were in my shoes and could change one thing to make your work easier, what would that be?
       •  What could we do to improve the customer experience?
       •  Which of your tools/resources do you find most helpful? Why?
       •  If you could invent a tool or resource to help you do your job, what would it be, and how would you use it?
       •  What does your team leader do that’s most helpful to you?
       •  If you were the team leader, what would you focus on (or do more of) and why?
       •  What additional support or resources do you need?
       •  What questions haven’t I asked that you wish I would?
       •  What questions can I answer for you?
  5. Follow-up – Share a summary of your notes and key take-aways with the group. When giving readouts to others, including the “skipped” leaders, be curious, not accusatory. Remember there’s always many interpretations of every story.

Are you looking to achieve better business results through stronger employee engagement and commitment? I can help. Please call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

The Simplest Way To Hear The Best Stories

Everyday your team is doing great work. Sometimes you miss their stories. Some folks will go home and tell their stories around the dinner table. Others can’t, or simply won’t. Don’t let stories go unheard, or untold. Find ways for them to share impactful adventures.

Story Listening Made Easy

I lead a remote team, scattered across 3 time zones in 25 locations. It’s impossible for me to scratch the surface of all the good work going on. Once a month we carve out time to share stories.

Each of my directors nominates one or two team members who’ve been up to something great, along with a few notes, focusing on the behaviors that are leading to success. Those nominees then are invited to a “kudos with Karin” call. Just a dozen or so storytellers and me (we skip all the layers in between). No prep required.

I set the stage, and go down the list. I share the highlights of their story as I understand it; what they’ve contributed, and the positive behaviors that led to success. Then I turn the table, and ask the honoree to share “their side of the story.” What they’re most proud of. Why it worked. Best practices they would highlight.

Almost always, their story includes why it’s an OUR story, a group effort, and more names are thrown into the mix for follow-up. The storytelling blossoms with interactive energy. Their story becomes a FUTURE story of possibilities. Folks call one another off-line to learn more. We learn through collaboration.

I then ask, is there anything else exciting happening personally or professionally you would like to share with the group? More stories emerge: going back to school, babies, graduations, substantial weight loss. The energy lights up a notch and this remote group feels even more connected.

The Difference

Traditional recognition is vital. But it usually goes one way. We receive the nomination, share highlights, present the plaque, applaud and move on.

Try turning tables and be a story listener.

Respond. Cull out themes and common behaviors. Let the recognition emerge naturally from the storytelling. No fuss. No plaques. Just a great feeling on a Friday afternoon. And another story for them to share around the dinner table.

A Strategic Story about Strategic Storytelling

Over the years, I have used strategic storytelling workshops to help drive key messages, build teams, and enhance communication skills. Today, I share the story of how my interest in that began, and why I frequently use it in my leadership today.

The Strategic Story Behind Strategic Storytelling

The Dramatic Beginning

Many years ago back in my HR days, I spent the better part of a year working on an intensive front-line leadership development program. We had interviewed everyone, built the competency models, created the curriculum and worked with vendors to import expertise on specific topics. Then, the whole thing came to a screeching halt.

A big merger was announced, and the program was put “on hold.” Everything was changing leadership, organizational structures, priorities, funding views about certain competencies. It just wasn’t “the biggest rock” at that point. This stuff happens. I understood the dynamics, but I was devastated. All that work and there were still frontline leaders that needed development now. The work wasn’t changing at that level, and we had identified a need. The organization was full of young, inexperienced leaders. And we were young HR leaders, with passion and a cause.

I sat in the conference room with my co-worker with whom I had collaborated on this project. We just looked at one another. What should we do now? After we got over feeling sorry for ourselves, we got to work.

The Story Continues: Storytelling Workshops to Transfer Leadership Mindset

We decided that what we wanted to do most of all was to find a way to “transfer leadership mindset.” The best leaders we saw at the front lines were the ones who had some scar-tissue from experience, combined with other leadership competencies. If only we could help to accelerate the learnings of that experience to others. How could we do that? For free?

Our answer storytelling.

Without announcing our intentions (just a causal whisper to our bosses), we created a series of strategic storytelling workshops designed for various levels of the business.

In these workshops, we would ask each leader to reflect on their own values, priorities, and history and identify a personal story that reflected their approach to leadership. The stories would then be shared with the team, and each leader would offer feedback on their story and delivery. The themes from each story would be discussed and leveraged to create norms for the team (or organization). The participants would work to identify opportunities to incorporate strategic storytelling into their communication plans.

Once we had our strategic storytelling plan, we made appointments to meet with the friendliest senior leaders we knew to sell in our concept. We told our story of delayed funding, and our storytelling solution. We were met with what I can best describe as a “what the heck” response and an invitation to try it in various contexts and levels across the company. The best response was from the exec who had “used strategic storytelling for years.” He then pulled out a pencil-on-graph-paper strategic communication plan matrix with his 3 main messages for the year, and the various stories he would tell in different contexts and levels to reinforce it. Game on!

We held everything from large scale meetings of frontline leaders with storytelling circles to intimate executive teambuilding sessions. The best stories were the ones where the leaders allowed themselves to be vulnerable, which was particularly cathartic and important at this time of changing scenery. (We later captured this technique, key learnings, and a summary of the themes gathered from this key time in an ASTD Storytelling InfoLine (the link I include here mostly for nostalgia, not selling).

So now I ask you

What key messages did you take away from this story?

Afterword

In the years that followed, I have used the storytelling workshop concepts in my own leadership and have facilitated sessions with my own team. Yesterday, I shared a post on Lead Change Group on this and other “Do It Yourself” leadership techniques. I hope you will enjoy. DIY Leadership: Easy Leadership Programs You Can Run Yourself.

How to Stink at a Behavior-Based Interview

Most companies use behavior-based interviews for leadership jobs.

Many leaders are really bad at them.

I have seen many highly qualified candidates not get hired because of their inability to tell the right story in the right way.

In a Behavioral Based Interview, candidates are asked to describe a situation, share what happened, and communicate the results. In other words, to share a story.

Behavior-based questions work well because they require the candidate to draw on real experiences and communicate stories in an articulate way.

They can also backfire, when great candidates bomb the interview because of lack of preparation.

How to Stink at a Behavior-Based Interview

  • Pick the wrong story, usually the first one that comes to mind
  • Select a story with a bad ending
  • Get carried away in your story-telling, sharing too much detail and going in circles
  • Leave out the detail, leaving too much to the imagination.
  • Forget to share the point of your story
  • Share a story in which you did not have a central role (sharing someone else’s success)
  • Over-use of the word “I” when you are describing an effort you led
  • Keep using the same job or example over and over (don’t laugh, this is one of the most common mistakes)
  • ???

How to Prepare for Success

  • Make a list of the competencies or skills most required for the job
  • Go back through your work experiences, and find the best examples (stories) that showcase your skills in these areas.
  • Develop a plan for which stories you plan to share
  • Build out your stories to include brief context, specific actions, and results
  • Practice telling them to a mentor or friend
  • ???

It is useful to keep a journal or archive of your best stories that you can call on as needed. Capture the details while the story is fresh so it will be easier to recall when the time is right. I am known for reminding my team to “remember this story” for their next interview or elevator speech, right after we have experienced a success.

Also, most leaders I know are more than willing to help their teams prepare for interviews and to consider the right stories to include. It is helpful to do a mock interview or two with a boss or mentor before you are even looking for the next opportunity.