Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 6;   February 5, 2014:

Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: II

by

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, 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.
Misrepresentations
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 purpose
must 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 Go to top Top  Next issue: Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: III  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenhZLYrRMtUnyjppRsner@ChacotqZAFalhYTBMgJWoCanyon.comSend 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.

Related articles

More articles on Devious Political Tactics:

J. R. R. Tolkien (aged 24) in army uniform. Photograph taken in 1916.Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: I
Although skip-level interviews have their place, they can be dangerous, explosive, and harmful to the organization. What are the dangers?
Harry S. Truman (front, second from left) and Joseph Stalin (front, left) meeting at the Potsdam Conference on July 18, 1945Suppressing Dissent: II
Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context.
Derailment of Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Train 504 on September 17, 2005Why People Hijack Meetings
When as chair of a meeting, you have difficulty completing a reasonable agenda, you might be the target of a hijacking. Here's Part I of a series exploring meeting hijacking.
A leopard stalking its preyHow to Hijack Meetings
Recognizing the tactics meeting hijackers use is the first step to reducing the incidence of this abuse. Here are some of those tactics.
Portrait of a woman titled "Monomania of Envy"Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VIII
Narcissistic behavior at work can have roots in attitudes and beliefs. Understanding which attitudes or beliefs underlie narcissistic behavior can sometimes have predictive value. Among such attitudes or beliefs are those related to envy.

See also Devious Political Tactics and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vial of COVID-19 vaccineComing February 3: Cost Concerns: Scale
When we consider the costs of problem solutions too early in the problem-solving process, the results of comparing alternatives might be unreliable. Deferring cost concerns until we fully understand the problem can yield more options and better decisions. Available here and by RSS on February 3.
Working remotely, in this case, from homeAnd on February 10: Remote Hires: Communications
When knowledge-oriented organizations hire remote workers, success is limited by the communications facilities they provide. Remote hires need phones, computers, email, text, video, calendars, and more. Communications infrastructure drives productivity. Available here and by RSS on February 10.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenhZLYrRMtUnyjppRsner@ChacotqZAFalhYTBMgJWoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.