Employees don’t always feel comfortable giving their managers feedback, and that’s okay. But without some way of getting their employees’ thoughts, managers often go without feedback — and that’s not okay. Just like workers need consistent feedback to get better at their jobs and hone their skills, managers need employee feedback in order to get better at management and learn to more effectively lead.
So what’s a manager who can’t ask for direct feedback from their direct reports to do? Set up a skip-level meeting: a one-on-one between a direct report and their manager’s manager. Make the most of this feedback channel with the following steps.
1. Properly set expectations
Depending on how frequently (or infrequently) your direct report interacts with your manager, they might be alarmed when the meeting invite comes through. Is something wrong? Are they in trouble?
Alert your employee to the impending meeting invitation before it gets sent, and let them know it’s nothing to worry about. Explain that your manager simply wants to chat and catch up on how things are going on the team. Instead of giving them cause for panic, frame the meeting as an opportunity for them to voice any thoughts or concerns they may have to an attentive audience.
2. Provide a few specific questions
You might have a few specific areas that you’re curious to get your employee’s perspective on. If so, craft a few questions and send them along to your manager in advance of the meeting so they can be sure to guide the conversation accordingly.
3. Schedule a follow-up meeting soon after the skip-level
To ensure that the feedback is fresh in your manager’s mind, schedule a debriefing session a day or two after the skip-level meeting. The grace period between skip-level and follow-up will give your manager time to check into any other areas or talk to additional employees if need be and formulate how they’d like to deliver the feedback.
4. Listen with an open mind
Regardless of whether the feedback is positive, negative, or somewhere in between, listen without reacting. Keep in mind that the only way you can improve as a manager is to receive feedback.
Identify a few areas of learning and share your follow-up plan with your manager. Finally, thank them for taking the time to talk with your employee.
Now that you're aware of issues or opportunities, take action accordingly. Start a conversation around some of the thoughts your employee shared during their skip-level meeting, and share your strategy for making meaningful changes. Keep your manager apprised of the situation in the coming weeks and months.
Managers who actively seek out feedback tend to be more successful than peers who willingly keep their heads in the sand. Using skip-levels can make employees feel heard, and managers more effective. Skip them at your own peril.