Leadership escalations posted on 21 April 2024

Every now and then, you may not be able to agree with another party – about prioritization, what technical solution to adopt or something else. In this case, the last step is to escalate to your leadership.

Escalations often have negative connotations and may sound intimidating (especially if you just started your career) but they don’t have to. Here are few things to be know/be aware of:

  • It’s OK to escalate – Escalations don’t mean that you or the other party are at fault. Sometimes you need clarity from leadership on what to prioritize. If you are unsure on whether something should bubble up an issue, connect with peers to get more feedback/advice.
  • Give a heads up to your leadership if possible – sometimes the escalation will be resolved by 2 VPs (your and the other party’s). It’s useful to give a heads up to your leadership about the upcoming escalation such that they can also be better prepared in case discussions start in the hallway.
  • Be ready – your leadership time is valuable, make sure you have all the data you need to allow the discussion to end up in a resolution of the problem. This means

    • Having a clear write up of the problem – leadership tends to operate at a different level, so write for them. Don’t write a document full of technical jargon/details or keep these in an appendix.
    • Clarify the question you want answered – escalations should be resolvable so don’t ask “What should we do?” but more “Should we do option 1 or 2?”
    • Making sure all solutions have been considered – if you don’t, you may have to go back doing more work and coming back to leadership.
    • Getting estimates for staffing/cost/time/etc. and in general having more data available – you may not need them, but similarly as above, you want to solve your issue with a single meeting if possible.
  • Last but not least, be careful about the narrative. The usual advice on communication applies (e,g, don’t position your team vs another one) but you should especially pay attention to the narrative of your document/slides. This can be about making sure the representation of the solutions are fair but also slightly leading with a solution that you think is better – this is a pretty difficult exercise as the other party may disagree. This is also why if you have the opportunity to create the document/slides you should do it – rather than wait for the other party to craft them.

What other advice do you have to better prepare for escalations?

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