As a manager, it’s essential to take note of nearly everything going on in your workplace. Documentation is critical. But it’s not possible or practical to write everything down word for word. But when it comes to project management, issue resolution, performance, etc., documentation is a manager’s most powerful tool. Here’s how to do it.

Document Performance

Documentation is a critical part of your job as a manager. It provides evidence that performance issues were discussed with the employee in a timely and concise fashion. It offers a history of the employee’s improvement or failure to improve performance over time. It is chronological and a precise description of the employee’s actions, the manager’s actions, and events as they occur.

Documentation also provides evidence that supports management decisions to take unfavorable action such as discipline or termination with an employee. It offers proof that an employee deserves a promotion or opportunity over other employees who are also eligible. Documentation can be used as evidence to justify salary increases, decreases, or why an employee received no raise. And of course, in the event of a lawsuit, complete and thorough documentation protects an employer’s interests. The documentation can support management’s actions in terminating an unsuccessful employee. It also can prove that the employee was terminated for reasons that are legal as opposed to others, such as illegal discrimination.

Documentation Best Practices

Documentation should be written during or immediately following the meeting or conversation with the employee. You should never miss writing down the conversation with the employee on the day when it happened. Waiting until later or the next day affects the quality of the documentation because it is based on what you remember. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can reconstruct an employee’s performance or counseling history as needed. A reconstructed record would ever fool no experienced HR professional. Managers who reconstruct from memory bring unnecessary and unacceptable risk to their company because a made-up history won’t hold up in a potential lawsuit.

Documentation needs to be neat, professional, and organized. Write documentation as if you are talking about the history of the happenings to a third party.  Write documentation that is factual, fair, legal, objective, complete, and consistent. Avoid opinions, name-calling, editorializing, and labeling. You never know who may read your documentation one day, so make sure that it reflects your professionalism. This is not the place for a “back of the napkin” style of notetaking.

What Documentation Provides

In reviews of documentation, what is needed is an accurate record of the conversation. Stick to the facts and write down just what you said and what the employee said. Make sure that your documentation is unambiguous and that it gets the facts straight. Keep in mind that in any potential legal situation, errors in any of the documented events make all of the rest of the documentation suspect.

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