Documentation Your Management Insurance Policy

    May 13, 2003

Today we talk about a necessary evil in the life of the manager. And you can thank fellow reader Nancy of California for suggesting that I write an article about this scintillating topic Don’t you just love spending your time documenting? It’s such a joy to sit and write down every detail of a situation. And usually those situations which need to be documented fall into the “challenging” category, right? So, as you document, you get to re-live each and every moment of a confrontational or controversial situation. What a blast!

But I fear that many of you aren’t really relating to the aforementioned documentation drama. Why? Because if you’re like the majority of managers today, documentation isn’t part of your regular routine.

Now if this is because you have a smooth-running, mega-efficient department with no problem employees, then you probably don’t need to be spending your time documenting. But for the rest (and vast majority) of the management world, this probably isn’t the case. If you have problem employees or lots of office drama, then documentation should become a familiar part of your work life. Not because it’s fun, but because it’s a lifesaver. Before we jump into this thing, let’s talk about the types of documentation you should be creating and why you would want to do it.

Documentation really falls into three main categories. The progressive discipline kind, the performance improvement/coaching kind and the “cya” kind. Yes, “cya” means what you think it does. Today we’ll talk about the progressive discipline version. We’ll cover coaching and your fabulous “cya” file the next time in part two. Betcha’ can’t wait! In order to get your department running smoothly, you need to make sure that your employees are performing well, right? This makes sense. And for those times when employees aren’t performing up to par, your job is to make them aware of the behavior they are demonstrating which is not conforming with your expectations. You cannot afford to let issues slide these days. It is your job as a manager to make sure that performance issues are addressed. And how do you do that? Through documentation, of course.

Have an employee who isn’t meeting productivity standards? Documentation time. What about that employee who spoke to you disrespectfully in your last departmental meeting? Documentation time. And who can forget the ever-popular employee who has a hard time making it to work on a regular basis? You got it – document it!

Now as you start to think about all of the things you should be documenting, never fear. I’m sure your employer has a procedure for handling employee situations. In most companies it’s called “Progressive Discipline.” So if you aren’t already, get really familiar with your company’s p.d. policies so that you are following the rules properly. Not doing so really can get you into a world of trouble. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen. Your company may even have specific forms for you to fill out when you have a performance issue. These are great because they walk you through what it is you should be documenting. But if your company doesn’t provide you with these you can still create your own documentation.

After you’ve figured out the in’s and out’s of what your company considers a “verbal” or a “written” it’s time to get serious. You need to be ready to move as soon as you become aware of some kind of employee performance issue. In these situations, time is of the essence. As a manager striving for excellence, or as we say here in the Wiz-world, “magic,” you absolutely cannot afford to let poor performance and other employee issues slide. Not only does it impact the effectiveness of your department, but it impacts the morale of your good employees. Your good employees know how others in their department are performing and behaving. And they expect you to handle things that need to be addressed!!

So as soon as you have an issue you need to document, sit down and record every single detail that you can. You need to do this sooner rather than later so that your memory doesn’t fail you. You’ll certainly want to capture details such as time and date of the occurrence, but you’ll also need to spell out, with great specificity, the problem with the performance and your expectations for improvement. Again, make sure that you follow the company guidelines as to what kind of form your documentation takes. Yes, even “verbal” discipline needs to be documented.

You’ll need to communicate the information with the employee, get them to sign the documentation to prove they read it, and then document some more. I recommend making an addendum containing details of the meeting including time and date the meeting was conducted.

As I mentioned in the title, documentation really is a management insurance policy. It has saved my hide many a time as I’ve been faced with disgruntled employees and their misinformed attorneys who were claiming “wrongful termination.” And I’m proud to say that those attorneys went running the other direction once they saw my meticulous recording of the employees’ poor performance history. So take it from me, the pain of taking your precious time to document, is really worth it!

I bet you’re thrilled to be talking about this topic again, huh? Well, remember, it IS a necessary evil in the life of the manager. And you can thank fellow reader Nancy of California for suggesting that I write an article about this scintillating topic So as I mentioned last time, there are three kinds of documentation. The progressive discipline kind, the performance improvement/coaching kind and the “cya” kind. Yes, “cya” means what you think it does.

Since we’ve already covered the discipline kind, let’s talk about the other two. When I say that there is a category of documentation for performance improvement or coaching, I’m talking about the times when an employee does something that doesn’t really warrant an official disciplinary procedure, but it’s still something that needs to be noted for future reference in case the behavior becomes a problem.

How about we look at this through an example? Let’s say that Nancy has an employee, Fred, who showed up for work late without calling. Not a huge deal – I mean being late one time isn’t the end of the world and it doesn’t warrant any kind of real disciplinary action. But, in order to keep on top of things, Nancy should make note of it so that if Fred starts showing up late on a more regular basis she will have to formally discipline him. And if she’s been keeping a little documentation file, she has a record of the dates and times he was late. Voila.

And this file certainly comes in handy when it comes to review time. You’ll have a great jump start in putting together your fair review of your employees’ past performance. And speaking of this, why not use this documentation file to include records of the GOOD things that your employees do. This really will serve as your ultimate review file!!

Onto the “cya” file. This is an insurance policy that each and every employee should have as far as I’m concerned. The “cya” file should be established as the keeper of documentation detailing any kind of political, inter-personal or just plain weird run-in one might encounter at work.

For example, let’s say a colleague sends you an inappropriate, demanding or just plain rude email. Print that puppy out and into the file it goes.

Have a personality conflict with a colleague? Document what happened and drop it in the file. You should always take the time to do this because you never know when someone is going to try to stab you in the back. The amount of employee dysfunction existing in today’s corporation is at an all time high.

So watch your back and keep that cya file. And keep it at home! Don’t run the risk of someone finding it at work.

Molly Luffy, MBA, owner of Work Ethic Wizard, dedicated to helping managers regain their sanity and employees survive and thrive in todays corporation. Author of Super-Charge Your Promotion Quotient: 225 Success Strategies for the New Professional.