Educational Equity Newsletter – February 11, 2021
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Boost your team retention with skip-level meetings!
Last month, we talked about retaining key staff members. This month, we’re focusing on a technique that will help you identify small threats to retention, coach your managers more effectively, and build relationships with team members—the skip-level check-in.
Skip-levels are meetings you schedule with the direct reports of the person you manage. For managers of managers, it can be challenging to know just how well they’re leading if you’re not speaking to their teams. Additionally, if there are staff that are underperforming, it can be easy to believe the convenient story that the person’s just not a good fit, rather than digging deeper to uncover any management mistakes that may be exacerbating the problem. When done well, they are not a secret (everyone knows when a skip-level is coming) and they are not a gripe session (staff don’t save their critical feedback for you instead of sharing it directly with their managers).
Here are some tips for holding effective skip-levels:
Structure the agenda (but hold it loosely).
Skip-level meetings require more junior staff to interface with and disclose information to a leader they may not have a strong relationship with, which is inherently stressful for many folks—particularly when there are lines of race and gender difference. It’s important that leaders mitigate anxiety around these meetings by providing as much predictability as possible. Scheduling them in advance, letting people know what they’re for, and sending an agenda or a few questions in advance can help to allay fear and normalize the practice. Consider whether or not these check-ins will be confidential (it might be necessary to build trust)—if so, name this explicitly.
Clarify the purpose at the top of the meeting.
Make clear that you’re having this meeting in order to learn more about what they love about their job, what’s not working as well as it should, and what suggestions they have to help their role and your larger team work better together.
Ask specific questions.
“What is the most rewarding part of your job?” followed by “What’s the most frustrating part of your job right now?” instead of “how’s it going?” will get you much more helpful feedback. Here are our favorite questions to ask.
Celebrate their strengths and communicate appreciation.
Skip-levels are a place to deeply and authentically appreciate the person you’re meeting with, so do your prep and have a few examples of their strengths and recent achievements you’ve observed or heard about from their manager. This communicates that their manager is sharing their accomplishments, and that you value their contributions.
Make it safe to talk about the future.
One of the ways you and your team can avoid reeling from a sudden departure is by making it safe to talk about what people are interested in growing into and what their future plans might be. Ask what skills they’re looking to develop in the next 12-18 months, what future they see for themselves in their career, and what it would take to keep them on the bus for the long-term. Communicating upfront that this information would only be used to champion them, and wouldn’t count against them in any way is important (and keep your word! Don’t hold it against them if their career goals don’t include staying on your team). If they’re hesitant to share, that’s ok—just offer yourself as a resource if they’d ever like to have that conversation in the future.
Upcoming Working Session
Planning for Effective Skip-Level Meetings
Thursday, February 25 at 4pm EST
Rather than new content, this training will be a deep-dive and application of the topics above, with time for practice, feedback, and related questions. Register here.
And, save the date for our upcoming workshops on March 25 and April 22. Registration links to come.
Secure your spot in a 2021 training!
Give yourself something to look forward to this year by signing up for some TMC training goodness! Whether you’re looking for a training on project management, support with managing remotely during the pandemic, or an overview of the basics of people managing, we have something for you. Sign up here!
Need more support?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about our coaching and training services for leaders in the education sector. We look forward to hearing from you!