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 drama feedback and diminish trust.
Skip level meetings help you connect “what to why,” reinforce the MIT (most important thing), help you build genuine relationships, give you a chance to ask strategic questions to learn what’s really going on, and most importantly, to build genuine relationships.
Maybe that’s why after over 1000 blog posts this continues to be one of our most popular posts. Why the intrigue?
Because done poorly MBWA becomes OCHTC (Oh Crap, Here They Come). If your skip-level meetings are backfiring, follow these tips, and avoid these common traps.
How to Hold Great Skip Level Meetings
Get off to a great start by really doing your homework. Understand what the team is doing very well and know what concerns to anticipate. Know something about the people attending—have a few specifics to recognize. If you can bring along a note-taker, it will make it much easier to fully engage in a dynamic conversation. But of course, you don’t want to overwhelm the room with too many extra spectators.
2. Make it personal.
I always start skip-level meetings in the same way by inviting participants to share their name and asking “What makes you a ROCK STAR in your 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 and 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 about the team leader who 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.
Share a summary of your notes and key takeaways with the group. When giving readouts to others, including the “skipped” leaders, be curious, not accusatory. Remember there are always many interpretations of every story.
Avoid these 7 Big Mistakes
1. Not Doing Your Homework
Sure you’re their bosses’ boss. They should be glad you’re there, right? Hmmm … Want to ensure you make an impact? Learn what’s up with the people in the room. Get their names. Know what’s driving them crazy. Be able to speak articulately about a few of their biggest accomplishments.
2. Showing Up Needy
Yes, I get it. You’re sandwiching this skip-level in-between really important calls with C-level execs, vital customers, your boss. Go minimalist here. What do you need? A closed-door in-between your skip-level meetings? Ask for that. Otherwise, show up as low-maintenance as you can (and ensure your assistant gets this too.)
3. Sticking To Your Agenda
The real magic of skip-level meetings is never planned. Even if your team gave you a carefully crafted list of conversation starters, stay real and open to where the conversation may lead.
4. Talking Too Much
Resist the urge. You will learn way more by listening.
5. Asking the Wrong Questions
So often I see leaders ask leading questions that ensure they get told what they want to hear. You already know what you think. Have the courage to ask the questions that might surface answers that frustrate you. It’s better to know what people are really thinking.
6. Failing to Recognize Contributions
Your people want to know that you know what they’re up to. Be sure you do and tell them.
7. Neglecting to Follow Through
If you promise to look into something, be sure you do. If you promise to get something fixed right away, do it. And just as importantly, be sure you close the loop and let them know. Making commitments without follow-through does more harm than not showing up at all.
Great leaders spend lots of time talking to the people closest to the customer. It’s worth the extra effort to dig deep and do it right.
If you’re looking for more open-ended questions that work well, check out, 7 Icebreaker Questions to Melt Frustration and Build Trust, or read our book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide To Getting Results—Without Losing Your Soul.
Are you looking to achieve better business results through stronger employee engagement and commitment? We can help. Please call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.