How management escalation promotes organizational entropy

Previously I defined organizational entropy and how modern organizations evolve to this type behavior through a randomness of work order and completion. Another contributing factor to organizational entropy is management escalation. Let me start by saying that this post is not about bashing the practice of management escalation. Escalation is actually a needed and healthy component of high achieving organizations that have properly empowered workers to achieve the mission of the business.  There are however times when management escalation can disrupt the normal flow of work within an organization which can be disruptive to output. Escalation is random in the sense that its not pre-planned. So when members of the organization escalate issues with the intention of jumping the existing work queue there will be consequences.  The delivery time period of the other work in the queue is disrupted which creates the entropy effect.

What I’m saying is that there is a time and purpose to escalate items to management. Sometimes its for awareness on a particular topic. Often times though, it’s in an effort to get work done in a more timely manner. Here’s a list of negative consequences for organizations that shift work due to management escalation:

Penalizes those who follow the process

There will be times where the business return and value for the escalated item is properly used such that the work should be allowed to jump to the front of the queue. However, there are also times where teams or individuals may abuse the process in an effort accomplish work for their personal objectives or client despite what it means for the overall organization. Unfortunately this means that those who attempt to follow published processes and procedures may be penalized by having to wait longer for their work to be completed.

Opportunity cost from work that is delayed

When management escalation occurs, rarely do decision makers consider the full impact of shifting resources to complete the escalated work. There could be times when the work that is delayed has a higher value to the business than the escalated work.

Doesn’t solve root organizational process issues

In academia there is a notion of absolutes or  “perfect”situations (Economic perfect competition, perfect information, etc.) . This isn’t reality of course, but in the context of a work flow through an organization an attribute of perfect output order is one that processes work in the order of value to the business. In our conversation about organizational entropy and management escalation, this is important because ideally an organization would process the work without requiring escalation.  A need to escalate work for quicker resolution than what the standard processes provides could mean that the standard process needs and adjustment so that future management escalations can be avoided.

Sets precedent for future process avoidance

If individuals or groups see that the way to accomplish work is by escalating to management then others will follow this path. That’s not healthy and only serves to create a more chaotic environment which expands the amount of entropy.

So use management escalation wisely and with reservation. Consider the full cost and if the current system is not working properly then aim to fix it with process adjustments.