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Developing Leaders and Teams

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skip level meeting The value of a skip level meeting

Air France certainly may have benefited from a skip level meeting. On October 5th last year, disgruntled employees tore off the shirt of Xavier Broseta during a protest. This was a shocking and frightening moment for Air France’s HR Director. There is no doubt that it was an extreme breakdown of relations.

Violence is not excusable. Yet, there are many who sympathise with the Air France employees. They are fed up, alarmed and frustrated by the company.  The intention of management seems to be to impose draconian measures to save the company.

Leaving Air France aside, this situation isn’t new – organisations world-wide face similar challenges. So often, though, it’s in the area of communication that the rifts start to appear. Left unchecked, they become deep chasms of opposition, resentment and pain for all involved. The common causes of failed communications during times of change are:

  • Senior leaders are disconnected from the fears and concerns of employees
  • Defensive responses from leaders when challenged, turning to each other for reassurance
  • A perception of unfairness – nothing annoys employees more
  • Poor communication of messages – overcomplicated, mass emails, no follow up etc.

We’ve spent time working in Honeywell Control Systems. Here, leaders and managers hold “skip level meetings”. At these events, leaders meet with employees at a level below their direct reports. They literally skip a level and, sometimes, two levels.  The skip level meeting process can be informal or formal. Transparency and honesty is encouraged and two-way communication is expected. The meetings were, in general, a great success. These meetings also have an effect on the manager in the middle. He or she is more likely to ensure that his or her communication to the team is effective and regular. Skip level meetings are simple, but powerful and were part of the culture of the organisation.

They are not the answer to all communication issues. They do ensure that senior leaders keep in touch and know what matters to employees. Their contribution to communication, during times of change, is invaluable. They provide greater clarity of what’s important to employees and what their concerns are. Then, communications can be tailored accordingly, making the messages relevant and, where possible, empathic. These meetings are simple and low cost. They are invaluable for engaging employees and grounding leaders. A model for Air France perhaps?

What’s your experience of skip level meetings or other good practice?


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