How to escalate properly?
The road to success is often paved with our passion, conviction and, of course, a healthy dose of doing the right thing for your business. Even if that means taking some risks. That often causes a clash of minds, personalities, and in order to resolve a bigger conflict, it is sometimes necessary to take an unpleasant step of escalation.
The drama typically ends in an unfavorable result in many cases. But what if it doesn’t have to be that way? Today we’re going to talk about how to escalate properly.
First, let’s define what is an escalation. In what situations do we typically need to escalate things in?
Maybe you need to solve some challenges, come to an agreement with another department, and it’s just does not seem possible. At some point in the process, you have had an AHA moment and you realized that moving away from your path of doing things will lead to potentially not achieving your goals. And if the other party would do the same, then they wouldn’t achieve their goals either. It is a big challenge for both. And that, of course, is not possible. As a result, people might not be getting their bonuses and reputations might be harmed.
When the situation becomes not possible to solve – that’s when we need escalation.
What commonly happens in organizations is that escalation gets used as a threat. Yeah, I will escalate this. If you don’t agree, I’ll go and talk to your manager. That leads to relationships being harmed. And if we look towards the future of the next months or years, the next time we need to interact with the person we’ve just escalated above, it’s probably not going to be very pleasant.
I mean, how would you act around someone that made your life rather challenging because they escalated above your head? It doesn’t have to be that way.
So what is a clean, productive escalation process?
A clean and productive escalation process means we escalate together and that needs a certain strength and size of person to be able to offer and execute.
Step number one – as soon as you realized that finding a common solution will harm your or the other person’s goals and is genuinely not possible in the framework – you both need to address it with them and say how you see it. Say “I see your point. I understand why you cannot move in my direction because you wouldn’t achieve your goals. And I hope you see that I also can’t move in your direction because then I won’t achieve my goals and targets and KPIs. So basically, you and me, we don’t have the framework right now to solve it.”
Step number two – bring in an “I” message with a positive intention. Explain to the other person that you want them to achieve their goals and you want to find a solution. Solution that in the short and long terms will also work for them if they would be prepared to escalate together with you.
Step number three – explain the escalation process from your perspective. Offer a timeframe in which filing the escalation process might happen and make suggestions of how you could escalate together. Ideally, approach the next level management with solutions, well-calculated solutions. Management could help changing the goals of one of the divisions, add extra goals to the existing plan or shif resources. Discuss every possibility out there. Come up with your top two or three favorite ones and then commonly escalate them together.
Let’s look at the perspective of doing the over the head escalation and what can happen there if we pick the original version of escalating above someone or even using that as a threat. The moment when you go to your leader or to their leader and escalate, it doesn’t just make the other person look bad and make a challenge for them to have to justify themselves. It also reflects poorly on you as a leader because it shows that you’re not capable of solving challenging problems in the workplace.
So even though you might win that escalation – for a long time, it still is going to reflect poorly on you. It is always more valuable to agree with your counterparts and escalate together in a positive way.
In our leadership training programs, we put a strong emphasis on helping leaders find a mindset of true collaboration and equip them with the right communication skills to effective execute it. This saves considerable amounts of time in meetings and aligning with others, finding solutions and solving even the most challenging problems.