Is Performance Documentation Worthwhile For Busy Managers?
Leading and managing people is one of the most critical yet time-consuming and difficult challenges of any manager’s job. For many leaders documenting and tracking work and job performance issues feels like one of the most burdensome responsibilities. Because of other pressing work demands, they often postpone this task.
Most managers say it may be done several weeks or months after an incident has occurred and it is time for annual performance reviews. By the time, leaders do get around to documentation they often admit that their written notes are not a complete representation of what was discussed with an employee. Unfortunately, memories are not perfect. Remembering a specific performance issue weeks or months involving one of many employees long after the occurrence is not easy.
When leaders create documents such as handwritten notes or make comments in an email about an employee’s performance, they are creating potential litigation exhibits that can have serious consequences.
Good documentation can mean the difference between a company winning or losing employment-related lawsuits.
Proper documentation can prove that an employee’s dismissal was not related to discrimination based on race or age. A company may have a much more difficult time to prove the basis of the dismissal without such documentation. The presence of such documentation may make a proceeding with a federal agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) much easier for the business to defend. The absence of such documentation on an employee’s behavior and performance may prompt a federal or state agency to dig deeper. They may push to interview witnesses, or take other measures designed to elicit information that it expects should have been documented or find out the reasons for the absence of documentation.
Busy leaders can benefit from the following tips on documenting performance:
- Document “performance and conduct conversations” on the day that they occur. If notes cannot be made during the conversation with the employee, make notes and document the situation at the end of the day.
- Include the date of the conversation, the leader’s name/job title and the employee’s name/ job title in all documentation. As time evolves and employees change jobs, it is sometimes difficult to remember the conversation and to put it in the context of a timeline.
- State the facts and do not editorialize or inject personal opinions into documentation. For example, recording that “Mary gave her normal excuses for being late on Thursday” does not provide the context for “usual excuses”. Better documentation states, “Mary was 30 minutes late on Thursday and she said her car broke down on the way to work. This is the third time in June that Mary has been late more than 30 minutes to start her job.”
- Include a statement about the action plan and any expectations outlined for the employee to follow. Include a reference to any company policy that was followed such as a progressive discipline policy.
- Notes of conversations with employees about private matters, such as medical issues or taking sick or family leave, should be kept separate from other documentation about an employee. Medical documentation is subject to various privacy laws.
Creating accurate, unbiased performance documentation is an important skill every leader needs to develop. It takes time but is an important tool for every busy manager to use. Documentation is one communication tool, which can be used to preserve facts and remove ambiguities. Good performance documentation can help everyone make better business decisions that affect employees, one of the most strategic assets of any organizations. Have your managers been trained on how to develop and maintain good documentation?
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