My most hated word in Business

My most hated word in business is „escalation„. It’s often an artifact of unhealthiness. Unhealthy process, unhealthy organizations, worst case an unhealthy culture. No surprise it makes you feel sick over time.

Also, before I start… This is not meant to be a highly scientific or well-researched article. Just my very own thoughts on the subject that I came to over the last couple of years. Let’s look at some reasons that I’m seeing regularly when an escalation reaches my inbox.

An escalation often happens if you don’t take enough time for planning. Whatever it is that you want to do… did you plan it through properly? Did you consider risks and potential changes? Did you take requirements for granted that really you shouldn’t? Did you have a solution in my mind before understanding the problem? Did you validate data and information that you needed?

The second reason for an escalation often is enough communication or no communication at all. Especially paired with not enough planning things can become really hairy. Did you talk your project through with other teams and organizations within your company that you need to be successful? Did you talk to the right people on the customer side? Did you set expectations appropriately?

Very often escalations can be prevented if the right amount of planning happened and once a plan is put in place, the plan is communicated properly to all parties involved. Also, communication is not a one-time thing. Expect that you need to do it frequently throughout a project.

Sometimes you receive similar escalations within a short period of time. That might be a sign of a missing process within your company. As there is no process the only chance people see to be heart is to escalate their issue higher and higher throughout the hierarchy.

If things are really bad, your company is on its way to developing a „not my problem„-syndrome. That’s a cultural problem and very hard to fix, so try hard to prevent this culture from coming up in the first place. This behavior is often caused by every team and every single individual being overloaded with top priorities. Nobody has the room to breath to offer help. Everybody is worried not delivering on their top priorities when helping others. Eventually, of course, this will mean that nobody wins. Better alignment and focus across the company’s organizations can help, but it really is a culture that needs to be driven from top to down.

Last but not least escalations cannot be prevented completely and it is good to have one or more policies in place which describe how to escalate based on what needs to be escalated.

What do you think are the main reasons for escalations and how do you think most of them could be prevented?

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