At the top level in every organization, managers rely on the supervisors who report to them to understand what’s going on. The farther removed managers are from the day-to-day operations in the company, the more likely they are to worry about how things are really going. One way to find out what entry-level employees think is to hold skip-level meetings.
Lighthouse recently offered a series of blogs on skip-level meetings. For those who haven’t heard the term before, a skip-level meeting is when you hold a one-on-one with an employee who reports to one of your managers. If you develop an action plan for these meetings, they can benefit you, the other participants, and the organization. If you handle the process poorly, you risk creating problems.
To avoid trouble, gossip and hurt feelings, make sure you communicate your intent. If you hold a skip-level meeting with an employee who is two or three levels down from you, let the line manager know. Your managers feel it’s their responsibility to manage their team. If you suddenly start meeting with one of their team members, they may worry you don’t think they’re working effectively. You should also tell the employee why you want to meet with them. Let the employee know what you intend to discuss. Whether it’s a formal one-on-one meeting or a lunch date, announcing an agenda will put her mind at ease.
Once you establish a habit of holding skip-level meetings, set up a routine. Do you want to meet with each individual quarterly, or twice a year? Maintain a consistent and fair schedule to avoid the appearance of favoring one department over another. Depending on the size of your organization, you may not be able to establish a close relationship with each employee. In fact, outside of these meetings, you should encourage these people to continue communicating through the regular chain of command.
During these meetings, listen to each employee’s concerns. You should be looking for patterns in feedback. Are there problems with a current product or process that are mentioned frequently? Are you hearing about a manager who is frequently not available or not getting the job done? You may need to ask specific questions – like, “What do you wish your manager would do more of?” in order to get a read on what’s happening in a department. This kind of feedback can be impossible to get during your upper management meetings, but it’s vital to keeping your organization strong.
As C. Lee Smith recently noted, 43% of sales reps “are detractors of their current boss.” The number one reason sales reps leave companies is because of their direct managers. This situation may exist in other departments in your organization. Holding skip-level meetings may be the best way for you to discover if your managers need to step up their games.