• Escalation is an efficient way to resolve issues
  • Stay calm and get the facts before you start an escalation
  • Escalate up the chain logically and with team support to find the solution

You snap to attention as a new email lands in your inbox.

Maybe this time, it’ll finally be that email from Amy with the info you need to move on with your project.

You eagerly click into your inbox but it’s just another invite from her to a stupid meeting that has nothing to do with you.

Amy has failed you yet again.

You’ve been waiting on her portion of the work for days now and you can’t do anything without it.

You’ve tried talking to Amy but she just brushes you off with vague bullshit promises about getting it to you later. Except later never comes.

If she doesn’t come through soon, you’re going to miss your deadline.

You’ve tried everything to improve the situation but nothing is working. You don’t know what else you can do to make your deadline. Now you’re wondering if it’s time to escalate.

What’s putting you off is your track record with escalating problems.

Too often, you bury your head in the sand and hope the problem will go away. It never does and you find yourself desperately trying to get what you need from unresponsive coworkers and salvage the situation.

Other times, you'll do the complete opposite and go straight to the top without checking if it's a good move. You fire the gun way too high and too soon and it generally unleashes a total shitstorm of office drama.

You don't know how to escalate issues in the right way, which is why your approach to issues is so erratic.

But that's about to change.

Knowing when and how to escalate problems is crucial for success. It can even help improve your personal brand.

Let’s get into it.

Why Proper Escalation Is Important

First up, let’s define what escalation is. When you escalate an issue, you’re bypassing your most direct contact and going over their head to someone more senior.

It’s like saying: “There’s a problem here that you need to do something about so we can keep the project moving.”

It’s not about pointing fingers at people or throwing people under the bus. It’s about taking the issue to someone who can help fix it.

In the right context, escalation is a great way to overcome roadblocks that are stopping you from moving forward with a project and/or getting the input you need to resolve the problem.

When it’s timed right and involves the appropriate people who are best placed to find a solution, escalation has benefits.

It’s The Most Efficient Way To Fix Problems 

With a good escalation process, everyone knows what they’re doing. There are processes in place and nobody is just winging it.

Effective escalation is about getting the right people involved at the right time.

You're only taking issues to the people that matter so you're much more likely to get a resolution. And when problems at work are fixed, it creates more positivity at work.

If your company has an escalation framework already in place, you'll already know who to take your concerns to. But if not, you'll just have to make a judgment call. 

Problems Can Be Worked Upwards

Taking problems upwards can give a new perspective on a problem.

Sometimes, having someone a bit more senior than you ask the right questions at the right time can open the door to a solution you hadn't thought about.

Plus, they have more authority than you and they're better placed to find a fix.

The other benefit is that they’re not “in the weeds” like you are and have a better ability to see the broader elements that you may not have considered.

You Can Track And Document Problems And Solutions

When escalation leads to a successful resolution, you can document the progress and outcome so any similar problems can be resolved in the future.

It’s called “best practices”. So, if and when this same or similar issue comes up again in the future, you can use the same process solution to get things worked out.

And any escalation efforts that don't bring results can be documented so you don't waste time on solutions that won't work if the problem comes up again.

It Shows You’re Taking The Initiative 

Highlighting an issue that has the potential to miss a key deadline or damage the company shows you’re a go-getter.

You’re not just sitting on your ass cyberloafing and waiting for someone else to fix it. Or brushing it under the rug and pretending it’s not a problem.

But it’s a delicate balance.

You don’t want to jump the gun and escalate an issue that doesn’t need it. It’s like declaring that the world is going to come to an end for misspellings on a Powerpoint deck. That can destroy your credibility in a heartbeat. 

It Takes The Pressure Off Upper Management 

Escalation makes life easier for upper management. This is because there are typically a few middle layers between the tactical working level and the strategic upper executive levels.

It’s a tough racket being in the middle because you have to operate in two worlds at the same time. This is why being in middle management sucks sometimes.

The whole point of escalation is to make sure that problems are addressed by the right people who are still close enough to the working level.

This is great for upper executive management since they're not overloaded with every single problem that crops up in the company and they can focus on the strategic problems that really need their attention.

The Right Way To Escalate Issues At Work

Escalation is a fine art and it's easy to get it wrong when you don't have a plan. This is what’s been causing your escalation efforts to be so erratic until now.

A lot of times, it’s not your logical side that chooses the action plan but your emotional side and this is what gets you in trouble. If you feel angry and pissed off, you’re more likely to have a knee-jerk reaction and to go straight to the CEO to complain.

But it’s totally different when you have a process in place that you can follow whenever a problem arises. You don’t let your emotions don’t come into it. You can act rationally and take the best course of action, both for the project and your reputation. 

Hit The Pause Button

Before you do anything else, calm the fuck down. This is not the time to go AWOL. It’s hard to hold back when you’re about to lose your shit. We know.

Running into a problem isn't the end of the world, no matter how bad it seems at first.

Sure, it can feel like you've failed somehow but that's just the asshole in your head getting you all worked up more than you should be.

The solution is out there and it just needs to be found. But you won’t get there if you go straight to panic mode.

Take a breather and get your shit together.

You can do this through one-minute micro-meditations, grabbing a quick coffee, or going for a walk around the building. Whatever it takes to calm down.

Then you can start thinking about whether you need to escalate and how to do it. 

Get The Facts

Evidence is crucial when it comes to escalation. Raising an issue is one thing but you need to back it up with proof too. Otherwise, you’re just crying wolf.

Documenting your evidence is an absolute must, especially if you're raising issues and shifting blame to another coworker. Otherwise, it'll just turn into a game of “he said, she said.”

And this kind of office conflict only makes managing work stress that much harder.

In the example with Amy, you’ve got the email trail and meeting requests to prove you’ve tried to resolve the situation but to no avail. She can’t talk her way out of it easily when you’ve got the firm evidence of her promises and letdowns.

This is not only your proof but also your “cover your ass” email documentation in case the other party tries putting it back on you.

Try To Fix It Yourself First

Before you rush to escalate an issue, see if you can find a solution by yourself.

This avoids the embarrassment of escalating an issue that really didn't need it and trashing your reputation with upper management.

If there’s a simple fix, you’re going to look shitty if you jump in all guns blazing without taking simple actions first.

Sometimes, this can be as basic as talking to the other person and seeing if you can come to a solution without escalating things. It may just be a case of simple misunderstandings that can easily be overcome.

But don't try to be a superhero. Sometimes, you won't always be able to resolve the issue yourself, no matter how hard you try.

Complex problems often require teamwork to find solutions and escalating them can get a resolution while minimizing the damage.

There's no shame in escalating an issue when it needs it so you can get a resolution much sooner.

Identify The Best Person To Fix It

If there’s no obvious fix, make sure you’re clear on who is responsible or directly involved.

Usually, this will be the person who’s responsible for overseeing the project or who the other party reports to.

That might be your manager or theirs or maybe even both if the situation warrants it. Or, it may be a senior person who is the main point of contact on the project.

Once you identify who to approach, schedule a meeting to outline the problem and its impact. Come up with your potential solutions too. Form an alliance with them to work on the solution together.

Sometimes, you'll only need a clear and concise email that outlines the problem and the steps you've already taken to resolve the issue. Other times, it’ll be a more in-depth process.

Either way, you gotta be sure to have the right person involved.

Time It Right 

Timing is everything when it comes to escalation.

Most of the time, you either jump in too soon or hold off too long.

It's a confidence thing. You don't know if you're doing the right thing by escalating and it throws off your decision-making.

It's like when you're wondering whether it's time to call in the big guns in the office.

If you jump the gun and sound the alarm when it isn’t a real emergency, you look like an idiot. But if you wait too long and shit hits the fan, you’ll be in big trouble for sure.

You want that middle ground where you're holding off as late as you can in case you can find a fix but you've still got plenty of time and opportunity to escalate before it gets out of control. 

Work Together As A Team

Escalating doesn’t mean you won’t be involved in the solution. It doesn’t absolve you of all input into the decision-making and that can be a good thing.

This is where you’ll learn about the potential solution. Who to go for those solutions and how to coordinate the fix. You’re gaining new knowledge and improving your skills for free.

Be especially focused during this stage so that you can learn and repeat the process later on. It’s building your experience.

Being part of a team to solve problems and challenges has its benefits. This short animation hilariously shows how teamwork wins.

VIDEO: Team work pays off
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You can play a big role in agreeing and executing the solution. You can work together to fix the problem and come up with something that everyone feels comfortable with.

This is all about working as a team and at the same time, learning as an individual.

Take Things Higher Up If You Need To

Escalating an issue won't always bring a solution right away.

When this happens, escalate up the chain.

It may be that the person you've initially escalated to doesn't have the skills or resources to find a solution and it needs input from the next level up.

They can work with you to escalate up the chain and their authority can help get the input you need. Upper management is more likely to take the problem seriously when the escalation comes from someone within their group or department.

Executives often rely on and trust their middle managers. So, don’t go straight to the top by yourself. Work your way from the bottom up with help from the right people.

As a team, you guys will need to educate upper management. Because truthfully, some executives are fucking clueless.

Document The Escalation 

Documenting the escalation process helps to not only resolve future issues but also save and archive the solution for similar future circumstances.

Once you’ve agreed on and applied the solution to a problem, you can share the best practice with others and follow the same process again if needed.

Documenting also leaves an electronic paper trail. So, be sure to follow cc and bcc etiquette during these times. It also makes things easier for you because you can just copy-paste the history of the case.

This will also show that you were taking the right steps and getting the right people involved. It shows that you’re working through the appropriate channels and processes to find and develop a resolution.

Keep It Friendly

The point of an escalation isn’t to play the blame game or to throw someone under the bus. It’s to get a resolution to the problem.

If you go in all guns blazing, you risk being too aggressive and coming across as an antagonistic asshole. This can mean escalation is an epic failure before it's even begun because you may be alienating the very people that can help you.

Even if you’re super angry about how things are going, don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Keep things civil and professional. You’ve still got to work with these people and you don’t want things to get nasty right at the start of escalating an issue. 

Escalate With Teamwork And You’ll Win

Escalating a work issue can be scary but in the right context, it’s the most efficient way to get results. It makes sure that only the right people get involved and at the right time to resolve the issue.

When you feel confident in your approach, it changes everything.

You're not swinging back and forth between escalating too soon or not escalating soon enough. You’re in the zone and in the sweet spot.

So next time Amy puts your project in jeopardy, you won't have to think too hard about whether to escalate and when to do it.

You’ll have the correct timing, direction and path to get the attention it needs.

And as it turns out, Amy wasn’t dragging her ass on purpose. There was a recent reshuffling in her department and she’s having to report to multiple bosses and was overloaded.

Good thing that you didn’t set off the crisis alarm. You were smart about it.

Now, you'll know when it's a good move and how to do it in the right way.

Feel Better,

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