Skip level conversations: the benefits of board members speaking with senior managers

In the past year, a few of our portfolio companies have introduced regular skip level meetings into the organization. These are direct meetings between managers and team members who are one or more levels below them… for example, board members meet with senior managers (without the CEO) or the CEO meets with team members (without the mid-level manager/direct report).

Having participated in a few of these skip level meetings as a board member, I believe the process has some really strong advantages:

  1. Board members get a better understanding of the senior management talent at the company. The typical board meeting just gives us a light exposure to senior managers – but in a skip level meeting we have a chance to better understand a senior manager’s strengths, experiences, role, etc. When it comes time to discuss things like organizational changes and talent depth at future board meetings, we can then lead a much more in-depth and informed discussion.
  2. Senior management members get face time with board members. These meetings can be a great opportunity to pass on knowledge from the board to the organization – so think about how you match up board members and senior management members. For example, match the CFO with a board member who has a strong finance background. Additionally, hearing the company vision and core objectives directly from the board (and vice versa) helps make everybody more aligned.

However, skip level meetings can only function when there is a high degree of trust existing between all participants. These meetings are about opening new channels of communication, not necessarily for airing grievances. And, everyone needs to be focused on the company and the big picture, rather than using meetings to lobby for a personal agenda (and this can happen top-down or bottom-up).

But when you have the right dynamics and right level of trust for skip level meetings, they are powerful tools to spread knowledge across the organization and become even more aligned.

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