Handling Escalations at Work
In companies with underdeveloped product cultures, teams escalate issues too quickly
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In companies with underdeveloped product cultures, teams escalate issues too quickly. It can often happen that in such places, non-tech teams escalate fundamentally technical issues to management stakeholders. This puts a lot of additional strain on product managers, as now in addition to dealing with the technical problem at hand, you have to manage executives and leaders.
What to do in these situations?
Firstly, keep your cool and take a deep breath.
You’re probably already fuming or stressing out. It feels like a person is threatening to rat you out to teacher. I know, it’s hard to unlearn being a child when working with other former children. We’re all in it together.
Secondly, try walking in the shoes of the person who is escalating the issue.
They probably don’t understand your situation, and they themselves are likely merely trying to solve a problem. Perhaps you didn’t communicate proactively or clearly enough, and there was confusion. Or someone in your leadership made promises without involving you. Maybe a HiPPO ran their mouth.
Thirdly, offer to speak with them and understand their context better.
It’s possible all of this is a misunderstanding. Sometimes a short one-on-one is enough to resolve what seems like even the gravest of problems when writing about it on Slack.
Sometimes, however, people escalate issues needlessly, without consideration for the impact of their actions and the stress that they cause.
If speaking with them privately doesn’t help, then you need to involve others.
In this situation, you sometimes have to become a go-between while standing your ground firmly. Bring that person and the relevant management stakeholders or others involved in a room (or, well, video call) together, and air out the dirty laundry. Do it without pointing fingers. But discuss the issue without hesitation.
Talk about your culture of escalating issues, and try to agree on some rules around how, when, by whom, and to whom issues get escalated.
Some folks hide behind the C-level and abuse the power those folks have over others. Don’t let them.
But make sure you understand them first. And only if it’s clear you’re being treated unfairly, react.
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