Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: Part II
by Rick Brenner
Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor. They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.
Three Card Monte, Jaffa, Israel. Three Card Monte is a con game, usually played on street corners. For an explanation and demonstration, see the video at YouTube, by MisMag822. In con games, a typical tactic is to establish in the minds of the "marks" a belief that their understanding of what is happening is superior to the understanding others have of what is happening. They do this by running demonstrations of the operation that are reasonably transparent. The marks then come to believe (incorrectly) that they have nothing to fear from the situation, and that they have an advantage. The con artists then follow these demonstrations with operations that appear superficially identical to the transparent demonstration, but which differ in ways that enable the con artist to harvest value from the transaction.
Supervisors who want to calm subordinates' concerns about skip-level interviews can conduct benign interviews with some regularity. Then, after establishing in the minds of subordinates the belief that these interviews are constructive and benign, they have some freedom to employ them for purposes less benign.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia, by ZioDave.
As we noted last time, skip-level interviews can enhance organizational performance. But whether supervisors initiate them, or subordinates do, there are risks. Next time, we'll explore some hazards of subordinate-initiated skip-level interviews. For now, we resume our discussion of the hazards of supervisor-initiated interviews, using the name Frodo for the subordinate, Bilbo for Frodo's supervisor, and Gandalf for Bilbo's supervisor.
- Misinterpreting the event itself
- When everyone understands that Gandalf conducts routine skip-level interviews, the mere fact that Gandalf has interviewed Frodo (or wants to do so) is unlikely to cause speculation about Gandalf's purpose. But when these interviews are rare, or when they're sudden or unexpected, or when Gandalf takes care to conceal the event, people begin to suspect that Bilbo might be in jeopardy, or might be in the running for a major promotion, or goodness knows what.
- To limit this risk, supervisors should conduct skip-level interviews with predictable regularity, though not very often. Making clear that skip-level interviews do occur — and that they're routine — limits the risk of subordinates misinterpreting the event as a sign of anything in particular. Supervisors who conduct surprise skip-level interviews almost certainly generate speculation about their own direct subordinates' job performance.
- If Bilbo knows that Gandalf is one who conducts surprise skip-level interviews, he can gain some protection from misinterpretation by advising his subordinates well in advance of any announcement that these things do happen. In effect, Bilbo would be making the interviews a part of the organizational routine, thereby removing the surprise and limiting — but not eliminating — the possibility that subordinates might try to manufacture meaning for the event.
- In some situations, Frodo might use the skip-level interview to tell Gandalf something that Frodo knows to be incorrect or exaggerated, to disparage Bilbo's performance. If Gandalf has an agenda, and if Frodo can divine it, Frodo can tailor his misrepresentation to what he believes Gandalf wants to hear. If he does, his effort is more likely to be effective.
- In any case, Gandalf When everyone understands that the
supervisor conducts routine skip-level
interviews, the mere fact that one occurs
is unlikely to cause speculation
about the supervisor's purposemust be neither too trusting nor too skeptical. He is wise not to accept at face value anything he learns from Frodo, but just as important, he cannot seem to Frodo to be skeptical or distrustful of Frodo. He must take Frodo seriously, but he must take action only after confirming Frodo's assertions with third parties (other than Bilbo).
- If Gandalf does confront Bilbo with allegations obtained from Frodo — allegations that are unconfirmed, and which Bilbo knows to be false — then Bilbo must accept that he has a problem. Whether Gandalf is naively eager to find fault with Bilbo, or Gandalf is trying to assemble a case against him, Bilbo's remaining tenure as Gandalf's subordinate isn't likely to be a happy one.
We'll continue next time, exploring subordinate-initiated skip-level interviews. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Devious Political Tactics
- Devious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
- The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?
- Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
- Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate you to find another way.
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part II
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of these tactics.
- Devious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
- Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends. Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage. Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
See also Devious Political Tactics and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact me for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Person-to-Person Communication for Project Managers
- When we talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program you'll learn a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- Download to
your calendarHoliday Inn Mt. Kisco, One Holiday Inn Drive, Mt. Kisco, NY 10549: April 5, Professional Development Day, Westchester Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Download to
your calendarPortland Country Club, 11 Foreside Road, Falmouth, ME 04105: June 19, Monthly Meeting, Maine Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Managing Virtual Meetings for Real Results
- Leading or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Organizational Politics for People Who Hate Politics
- Have you ever felt powerless to implement an important new idea? Have you ever been "blind-sided" at a meeting? Have you ever lost two good employees because you could find no way to keep them from attacking each other? These are some of the issues of organizational politics. Many of us have become enmeshed in them from time to time, but we've also known some people who seem to be able to engage and prosper. How is that done? We'll inventory the challenges of organizational politics, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees learn concrete techniques for dealing with the problems that arise in workplace politics, while keeping their integrity intact. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- New York Marriott Downtown, 85 West Street at Albany Street, New York, NY 10006: May 22, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series. Register now.
- Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel, 525 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G2L2: June 5, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series.
- Boston Marriott Newton, 2345 Commonwealth Avenue, Newton, MA 02466: June 26, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series.