secret to great skip level meetings

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 – Get off to a great start by really 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. 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 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 takeaways 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.

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? I can help. Please call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

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Posted in Communication, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. #5 by far.

    Always, always, always follow up. Otherwise, the skipped is left in wonder (meaning mistrust, doubt, fear) and his direct report will just think the meeting is a formality. Follow up removes doubt and fear and shows the report that there was a purpose to it.

  2. Love this question, Karin: “what makes them a ROCK STAR in their current job.”

    This is a safe way for folks to open up about their areas of expertise and take pride in their accomplishments.

    It also gives them a sense of ownership in where the company is going.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • LaRae, Thanks. That question always makes people’s eyes light up. Even the shy folks are ready to share by the time we get around the circle.

  3. Love your open-ended questions, Karin, especially-If you were the team leader what would you focus on? That type of thinking helps one reflect on perspective and possibilities.

    It is always challenging to receive accurate information and updates when direct reports may be fearful of exposing things about their bosses. I have had a hard time with that also when many levels are present in a training. I try to help them focus on what is best in the end. One needs to navigate this gingerly.

    Thanks Karin!

  4. Terri, I agree it is so tough when many levels are present in the training. I don’t usually recommend that unless the training is built in such away to be getting folks to talk with their manager and action plan. Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights.

  5. All the questions are great Karin and useful to me as a consultant. Thank you. I still remember from decades ago my first skip-level meeting when I was a worker-bee and the president of our company called a group together. I liked our VP a lot, and he also needed to be better at follow through. I mentioned this in the confidential skip-level meeting and a few days later my VP was saying, “I heard you said…” WOW. I never trusted the Pres again and it took the VP and me a while to recover.

    I remember thinking that If I were the VP I would not have let on, but isn’t that lying too? And yes, history did prove the president a schmuck. 😉

  6. Thanks so much, Lisa. Your story is an excellent example of how such meetings can backfire. That memory stays vivid for you. I’ve seen that movie before too… it doesn’t end well.

  7. Thanks Karin, really like the question set and the approach “Framing your questions in a positive light”.

    What thoughts you have of doing skip level in groups and skip level 1-on-1? How would you choose one approach over the other?

    Thanks, Vikas

    • Vikas, Great question. I think it really depends on what you are looking to achieve and the current level of trust. One on one can be very powerful, but it also can be incredibly intimidating. I find the “safest” way is to have small group discussions, that way someone does not feel real pressure to talk if they don’t want to.

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