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Playing the Escalation Card
By Kerry Wills

When working with people I try not to escalate issues to their managers. While there are many times that it is absolutely warranted (e.g. not meeting commitments, not replying to messages, etc) I still try to work it out with the individual. Here is why I avoid escalating…

  • It annoys persons being escalating to – they probably have a hundred things on their plate and while maybe justified I always feel like somehow I am bothering people when I escalate and they feel that we should just “figure it out ourselves”.
  • The person being escalated about will surely get the feedback and now it becomes an uncomfortable working relationship and may even make things worse

  • I feel like I start getting a “boy who cried wolf” reputation instead of someone who is a good team player and who can work with people

So, instead of escalating I try to work it through first. I spend a lot of time communicating with team members to understand where things are before they become problems. If something looks like it is trending poorly and not getting the right attention I usually try to find the person for an in-person conversation vs another reminder e-mail. It is hard to ignore you when you are standing at their desk.

My progression looks something like this…

  1. Involve people in the planning so they have buy-in
  2. Keep in front of them to understand status progressing towards goals
  3. If the date is missed reach out from them to understand why and the action plan to get back on course
  4. If they don’t respond or don’t meet expectations find them in person or call them
  5. Last resort if they continue to be a poor performer consider escalating, but only do so with documented facts

As you can see the escalation is the last resort and if you are going to “play that card” realize that you don’t have many of them to play. Therefore you will want to have documented facts and examples to substantiate the escalation. Make the conversation about the facts and the plan to get back on track instead of the individual.

Kerry Wills is a proven Program Manager/Portfolio Manager with an extensive background in Project Management, consulting, and application development. Kerry has consistently demonstrated the ability to plan and implement large and complex projects on time and on/under budget. Kerry runs a blog, Adventures in Project Management.

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