Does Your Organization Suffer From Premature Escalation?

Last week I shared 7 Leadership Principles From An Unexpected Source. SPOILER ALERT: that source was the principal of my kid’s elementary school. I’m pulling out a few pieces of that lengthy post and expanding on them.

sad businessman on steps

The Principal’s Leadership Principle Number Three:

We should attempt to solve social problems directly.

Bill Overton writes:

We each need to practice being personally responsible and initially going directly to the source of our concern.

If that doesn’t work, go to a higher authority.

Venting has a role, but it soon afterwards needs to go to the source, otherwise it becomes destructive.

SVginger writes:

Escalation shouldn’t be a bad word, but hearing it makes me sick to my stomach. One of my biggest pet peeves, especially from ‘execs’ who should know better, is people complaining about their peers when they haven’t tried to address the situation themselves. It is not OK for them to throw their hands up and not think about solutions.

One important caveat: Some situations should go right to management or HR, and I’m not suggesting otherwise. Inappropriate behavior, harassment, illegal activity, or anything that smells like any of the above are totally different animals. Make sure your people know where to go with concerns like these without fear of retaliation.

But for most social problems in the workplace, people need to attempt to address them directly with the source. Here are two methods to try:

The ‘duh.’ When someone attempts the premature escalation with you, ask them “What did (s)he say when you spoke to them about this?” The lightbulb should go off for them that you want them to attempt resolution directly, and that they should want to go this route.

Starbucks (or Jameson) diplomacy. Encourage one party to take the other outside the office. Clear the air in a neutral setting, and talk it out over a coffee or a drink. Break bread, and talk about your lives! Everyone has passions outside of work that make them more human, more relatable. A variation on this one: take your team out for a happy hour, or whatever social outing best fits your culture. It is time and money well spent.

The right time to escalate is when both parties have tried to come to resolution and are just too far apart. You can reinforce this behavior by celebrating examples of ‘good’ escalations, and rerouting conversations as appropriate. If you’re supporting premature escalators you are supporting behavior that is at best bad for the growth of your team and over time can cut a hole in your culture.

Did you enjoy this post? Check out the rest of the 7 Leadership Principles!

Another great resource for managers is manager-tools.com, who did NOT compensate me for this plug.
They have a ton of great content on everything from management fundamentals to nitty gritty shared experiences. There is also an active forum to get advice on your specific situation. Here’s one post where someone attempted premature escalation and their manager didn’t bite. Good manager! And the forum agrees.


Chris Eberle


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