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How To Escalate Issues To Upper Management Without ‘Crying Wolf’

Escalating issues to upper management can be difficult—especially knowing that most managers hate surprises. Here’s a traffic light approach that illustrates how to escalate issues–and won’t make you sound like you’re crying wolf.

Consider the traffic light system. Just like you learned in driver’s education, green means “go,” amber means “yield,” and red means “stop.” The same applies to escalation:

  • Green (Status update)
  • Amber (Warning)
  • Red (Crisis)

Using this system–by first providing a status update, and then a warning, followed by explaining the consequences of a potential crisis–will help eliminate any element of surprise. After all, getting your manager to act based on fear is not a sustainable or good way to get things done.

traffic lights lit up at night

So what happens once you’ve escalated the issue?

You should always make sure your manager knows they’ve “received the baton.” In other words, they should now have ownership of the issue. Clarify this ownership with your manager if you’re not sure.

Simply ask, “Are you willing to take care of this?” If not, then you’ll know who will be taking it on. One of the reasons issues get dropped during escalation is due to lack of follow-through. Assuming someone else will take care of the issue almost always ends in failure.

By following these techniques, you’ll improve your chances of getting issues dealt with at your organization in the most efficient manner possible.

Learn more about the Traffic Light System and other escalation techniques from Trevor Manning here.

For some face-to-face training on how to deal with these issues more effectively, fill out the form below to learn about UW-Madison’s Technical Leadership Certificate.

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