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Common Mistakes in Sales Management (Part 3): Treating Escalations as Politics

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

(this post originally appeared on Linkedin here)

“When form takes over, how one does anything is far more important than the results. People get reprimanded despite the extraordinary results because they didn’t follow the correct procedures – the right form. As a result, nobody dares to take chances. Everyone asks permission if there is any possibility of having to make even the slightest deviation from the norm.”

Ichak Adizes, Managing Corporate Lifecycles


A fundamental tenet of the Amazon culture commonly misunderstood by new hires was named “Escalate early, escalate high!” where an escalation was simply a situation in which the organization’s established mechanisms didn’t deliver a customer-obsessed outcome. The emphasis here is on mechanisms, not on people.


What is an Amazon mechanism?


Amazon mechanisms are an outcome of the “Invent and Simplify” leadership principle: After a team invented something it must build a mechanism to deliver it at scale. A mechanism can range from a simple checklist over a procedure all the way up to a highly complex IT system. It produces a desired output based on a set of well-described inputs.


Mechanisms can start to fail when they miss to take new inputs into account, the required output changes or they don’t scale. When this happens an escalation is triggered by the team that owns the outcome of a mechanism or other teams that consume its outcome. So, an Amazon escalation simply signals the fact that the system isn’t working as desired and asks for help to fix it. It is all about the “what” and NOT about the “who”!


When escalations start to be perceived as being about the “who” instead of the “what” they become subject to politics. Direct line managers demand all escalations to be approved by them, other involved managers demand their direct line reports to be involved prior to their own involvement. The process takes forever, creates a load of friction and bad feelings amongst the involved parties. Strong salespeople will still fight their way through it, less strong ones will simply shrug their shoulders and tell their customers that “there is nothing we can do about it”.


Worst of all: Leadership will be shielded from reality, believing that everything is working smoothly. When they plan to meet customers sales management will pimp briefing documents, ask their salespeople to make sure customers don’t raise issues and even portray contacts as notorious troublemakers.


So, what’s the solution?


It’s all about culture: Leadership must express their appreciation for being involved in escalations as a mean to improve the organization’s effectiveness. Escalations must be perceived as normal side effects of innovation and growth. Both the escalators and the resolvers must be appreciated for their display of Customer Centricity and Ownership. And leaders must not shy away from personally diving deep and getting involved in problem solving to lead by example.

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Membro desconhecido
21 de mar. de 2023

Really good analysis 👍. Especially in organization with many new team members, it is critical to give them the psychological safety to escalate.

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