5 secrets to 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 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

1. Prepare.

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.

   •  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?
   • How can I help you with additional support or resources?
   •  What questions haven’t I asked that you wish I would?

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 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.

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

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  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.

  8. So many missed opportunities, but great insights when leaders use Skip levels effectively. The chance to build trust and engage team members with the organization is worth investing time and energy.

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