This article first appeared in Mint Newspaper – 22 November 2018

—-

Working today is tough—more so in a big company. The simplest of job requires you to interact with two or more departments, often with their own views and priorities. At times, it seems like everyone needs a little push before they do what you want.

How do you push then?

For a start, you need to separate issues into two categories—one-off issues and systemic issues. Each will require a different approach.

One-off issues

These are issues that pertain to a single transaction, a delay, an instance of non-revert, etc. These can be solved by simply amending the email subject. Make sure to convey the effect of a non-revert or delay, as a suffix in the email subject.

I was working in demat operations in a bank some time ago. One day, we received a request from a corporate client seeking a revision in the fee applied to its demat (one which holds shares, bonds, etc. in electronic form) account.

I spoke to the vice president level team leader and sent the request (client letter) to him. Then I waited. But the revert did not come. I called. The team leader assured he would get back to me. I waited a couple of days. Again, no response.

The client had good billing. The revision he sought was significant. This was possibly the reason why the team lead was taking his time.

But for me, an operations officer, it was just another transaction. And, nearing month-end, any further delay was going to affect my work. Exasperated, I sent a reminder with a revised subject, something like: “Oscorp Ltd – Await Fee–Month-end billing of all clients on hold”.

This subject had the desired effect. The team leader got back to me, irritated: “Yes, I know. Will revert by evening.” That evening, the decision came through as promised.

And therein lies the key. When you want an urgent response, convey the effect of delay, as a suffix in the email subject.

A subject like above, unmistakably conveys, the issue will worsen if the person does not revert soon.

As an added benefit, subjects like these prompt your boss to get involved and take over the baton from you; you don’t have to specifically go and seek your boss’s intervention.

Systemic issues

A systemic issue is one where you can’t blame the individual. You get an inkling of this from a couple of prior interactions with the counterpart. In such cases, while you put pressure on the individual, you will have to also focus on the real reason—the process, the system, etc. And to get your job done, you will have to proactively reach-in.

That means an escalation which has the following four ingredients: a strong subject, high on facts, low on emotion and some suggestion to solve the issue.

Imagine you are head of the administration division in a company. You notice a delay in the receipt of vendor payments (say demand drafts or DDs) from the operations team. You decide to escalate the issue. (It is a systemic issue because it is not a one-off bill delay, but one that is seen in bills stretching over weeks.)

Your email’s four ingredients will be:

■ A strong subject: You send the email with the subject ‘24 Bills Pending – Over 25 days old – Business Suffering”. A subject like this indicates a systemic breakdown and will attract attention.

■ High on facts: You list the 24 bills for which the DDs are to be received. Contrary to this, typical escalation emails, initiated under stress, tend to highlight a couple of cases, and end with “Please urgently issue all the DDs pertaining to the Admin team”. This approach then leads to a lot of ambiguity down the line on which bills are pending.

■ Low on emotion: Instead of being destructive in your email (“What is the issue?”, “Once we send the bills, it becomes your responsibility to issue the DD within 5 days …”), you dispassionately highlight the effects of delay (“Due to delay in payment, vendors are delaying delivery of new equipment and services, which in turn is affecting other units in the company.”) This approach ensures the email doesn’t degenerate into a blame game and the focus remains on solving the issue.

■ Suggest a solution: a) Offer to rescan the 24 bills, to help the operations team to issue the DDs as a priority. b) Request the operations team to evaluate publishing an MIS (management information system) every Friday, listing the bills pending, and reason for the delay. The two suggestions seek to resolve it once and for all.

With every second item in the office nowadays an urgent issue, escalation skills increasingly play a role in how well you marshal the company’s resources. Done well, it will help you get what you want. Done haphazardly, you will end up sending 10 emails where one would have done the job.