Don’t Underestimate the Dicey Art of Escalation!

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

A general dictionary defines escalation in many ways like, "Increase in intensity, magnitude, bypassing the immediate person, and so on." Applied to workplaces escalation is usually a formal process in many IT and non-IT projects.

For example, if certain employees are unable or unwilling to do a certain activity they are accountable for, then it is necessary for customers to escalate the issue to their superiors for resolution. However, escalation is not a simple or an easy to use affair in most workplaces though it can be easily mentioned in policies, processes and reports. This is because escalation is an instantaneous conflict and vendetta creator as it is often considered as a complaint against people. Another downside is it leads to backlash and revenge as people normally don’t take escalations professionally. Hence many employees often hesitate to escalate pressing issues and concerns to higher ups fearing a backlash or wrath of the person. Or they simply give up and suffer in silence.

Many a time junior and new employees even take the blame on themselves, or make excuses on behalf of someone, as they will not have the courage to escalate against experienced seniors and toxic employees who deliberately hold up things. Nevertheless, escalation is necessary and must be done as without it many activities just don’t happen. So one must cultivate the habit of escalation whenever and wherever necessary provided the necessary homework is done before escalating. Here are a few ways to do it.

1. Before rushing to escalate on someone you need to ensure that the necessary formalities and homework is done. Many impatient people are too quick to escalate to all and sundry, but conveniently fail to adhere to their portion of responsibilities. For example, a department may initiate action only if a certain work form is filled and handed over to them. But if you have not done that, and instead escalate the issue to their superiors then you are just asking for trouble because it will simply backfire on you.

2. Suppose you have done your part and the other party still does not respond then you may need to prod or remind them formally and gently for some action. In some cases certain departments will be so busy and short staffed that nothing can happen even after the necessary formalities and reminders. In such cases you need to take a call on how to get things done without adding to their misery.

3. In many organizations there exist a small percentage of troublemakers who procrastinate and hold things up without rhyme or reason. A Chinese proverb says, "The mountains are high, and the emperor is far away." Such people misuse this loophole and thrive because they are sure that people will not escalate against them because of their seniority or position. Such people don’t return calls or respond to emails, reminders, etc. And they don’t value other time, effort or money. Such people have the potential to destroy projects, lose customers, cause various grievances, give rude replies and invent flimsy faults to put the ball back in your court. Or they switch their charm on and off depending on whom they are dealing with. In such cases the only option is to ensure you escalate to their higher ups and even higher, provided you have ensured your portion of the homework is complete. And if they retaliate you should escalate even that so that they know it is not easy to deal with you through rude means. This second step is very crucial as most people give up after failing in the first attempt. You should have the tenacity to repeat your escalation and keep going higher and wider. Sometimes when escalation to a higher up does not work, then you should go horizontal methods, innovative methods, indirect methods, and any other direction till you reach your goal.

4. Escalation is a double edged sword and the same rules apply to you as well.

Finally we can conclude this article with a great quote from Madonna who says, "A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want."

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