Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Skip Level Leadership: A Leadership Tool to Blow Open Organizational Communication

Volume: April 2017

Brandon joined his organization five years ago and since that time his career has been sizzling.  He is a millennial leader and brings great technical skills to his workgroup. His organization has invested in Brandon’s professional development in many ways. They have worked on elevating his technical skills, as well as his soft skills and leadership skills. The result is a fine professional who is clearly in the organization’s succession plan. C-Level leadership views Brandon as irreplaceable due to his improved leadership skills, ability to communicate and technical acumen. Building a retention wall around Brandon and other high-potential talent is one of the organization’s top priorities.
While the organization has a variety of outside resources to help them grow their talent, they want more control over developing and retaining key team members. So what should the organization do? Initially, consider three areas in which leaders should help team members grow skills.

  1. Technical Skills. Whatever the “technical” aspects of an organization are, top talent needs to demonstrate mastery.
  2. Soft Skills. This can range from communication and collaboration skills, to priority management, problem-solving, and effectively driving change. Typically, team members would attend specific internal or external programs in order to gain or grow these important skills.
  3. Understanding the Politics of the Organization. I call this ability “organizational savvy.” While executive coaches can assist team members to a certain extent with this knowledge, it is often best delivered by seasoned internal colleagues. Effectively educating high-potential talent on intelligently navigating organizational politics sets people up for long-term success and builds a retention wall around them.    

The question then becomes, how can an organization increase their ownership in the three aforementioned areas? The answer is skip-level meetings.

  1. What is a skip-level meeting? A meeting between two professionals in the same silo who are at different levels of the organization. The professionals are also separated by two levels of leadership. For example, a Director reports to a Vice President, and that VP reports to an Executive Vice President. A skip-level meeting would take place between the Director and the EVP. Please note that the VP would be fully aware that their direct report has a scheduled meeting with their boss. In fact, in many cases the VP initiates the concept of skip-levels with the EVP and the Director.
  2. How frequently should skip-levels occur and what duration? Most commonly, skip-levels are held once per quarter for one hour, unless the situation calls for more or less frequent meetings. If a longer or shorter meeting is desired, schedule accordingly. An EVP client of mine welcomes skip-levels, although her meetings are always scheduled for thirty minutes or less.
  3. What are the benefits of skip-levels?   
    1. The succession track of various team members are strengthened. This is vitally important to the organization, especially since most organizations consider themselves perpetuities. 
    2. Greater amounts of information are shared to a broader audience. This expands the flow of important communication throughout the organization and minimizes the size and ferocity of the grapevine.
    3. The senior participant gains a better sense of the activities that are taking place at lower levels of the organization.
    4. The high-potential participant gains a keener insight into the broader strategy of the organization.
    5. The leader in the middle (in our case the VP) grows the skills of his/her direct report.
    6. The leader in the middle also opens up the possibility of receiving important feedback, coaching and/or praise from his/her boss.
    7. Additional coaching topics for the high-potential participant may be discovered.  
    8. A stronger retention wall is built around a high-potential talent.

Bottom Line: Using skip-level meetings is a terrific method for leaders to blow open organizational communication. The meetings can help with talent retention, as well as information flow. They can lead to more strategic coaching plans. They can enhance trust within the organization. Certainly, there is little to lose by implementing skip-level meetings. The sky is the limit with regard to what skip-levels may deliver to your leadership world. If you are not engaging in or encouraging them, give ‘em a go. The results they deliver will not disappoint.
Until next time, be well.
Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, strategic planner, and Certified Speaking ProfessionalTM. Call us about 1:1 Coaching and Leadership Development at 941-776-1121, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or visit LeadershipSimplified.com 


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