A skip-level meeting is simply a meeting where a manager's manager meets directly with employees, without that manager in attendance. The benefits of such meetings are obvious: Unfiltered access to information about what's really going on in the organization – good or bad.
Maybe this has happened to you, You get a call from your managers' manager who asks you to set up some time for a meeting to update her/him on a project/ongoing operations etc. You (have to) agree. But how to approach that "skip level meeting"? Reflecting on many coaching conversations and the input of several colleagues and connections here are some thoughts to help you think through how you approach what can be a minefield...
Ensuring my line Manager is across the meeting and content. In some cases I would also include my Line Manager as Coach. (Is the briefing what you would want to see, or what your Manager needs to see?) Then, there is a factual briefing- purpose, objectives, numbers, context etc. concise bullet points. Insight is then key - what insights can I provide? What if scenario’s? A more strategic view? Potential solutions to issues? Prep is key, and an understanding of why the meeting is happening, and what my Managers Manager needs to present higher and wider always helps.
Concise, high level info with data point (my bosses boss loves numbers) and making sure to sprinkle in who made it possible so that others get their credit.
My approach depends on the agenda and purpose of the meeting. Sometimes it's about getting to know the team members better, and connect. Sometimes it's an update or decision on a strategy or project you need endorsement or budget to pursue. In the first case the discussion is more relationship focused. The next is more about influencing a decision. In both I am clear going in on the key messages I want the leader to take away and ensure I follow up to confirm next steps and reinforce the value of the discussion. Usually with all executives time is scarce so being concise but clear is useful, and anticipating questions and being prepared is important
Concise is huge, and that’s only possible with a basic direction/ desired result. Aiming to be authentic with what’s top of your mind can be good since leadership more rarely get to hear directly from and invest in lower level leaders. Towards which end I’d say curiosity is key; ask questions and dig at where you see some tensions (as long as the phycological safety of the situation allows), and simply be present and engaged. I can always tell when someone has an underlying agenda vs when they show up to participate in a relationship, and I prefer the later. Which brings up my last point, know what their baseline is, what leadership styles they prefer, and though you don’t need to cater to that alone it’s good to know what posture you can default towards. The manger in between you should be able and willing to help set the stage for all those, so ask for some points if this is your first time skipping a level.
I focus on being as strategic and concise as possible. I also make sure to communicate that I have kept my direct leader in the loop. I also reflect ahead on what the desired result of the meeting will be and then work towards that goal.
How do you prepare for a skip level meeting?