I too hear a lot of complaints from management about having to document what’s going on with their employees. Managers are too busy for that, right? Often, there’s a very real employee performance situation that needs to be resolved, it goes on for a long time (maybe through multiple managers), everyone is frustrated and the manager gets to the end of her rope and wants to “finally” fire the employee, who has been a bad performer for years. Our first question in HR is always, “Where is the documentation?” The answer may be that the employee got average annual performance reviews and no notification that anything was wrong. Or the manager may have told him (verbally) repeatedly about some things he needed to improve.
Besides legal compliance, how does documentation help your managers?
Checking Understanding. The employee may or may not have understood what to do, had the tools he needed to do it, or understood the implications of not doing it. That’s where documentation comes in handy-as a form of communication that can serve as an opportunity to check understanding on the part of both the manager, who thinks she is being clear, and the employee, who could think it’s either no big deal or his manager is just nit-picky and/or won’t actually follow through with any consequences. This is especially true if the employee has been flying under the radar with mediocre or bad results for many years and has been rewarded with a raise or bonus.
Ensuring Consistency. Documentation also serves the important purpose of helping managers ensure they are consistent in delivering coaching and performance messages to all team members over time as well. When you’ve documented your communication and actions, you can go back and review them when you are working on a future, similar case, to eliminate unconscious bias or emotional interference that may cloud your judgment. And if there is ever any question about a manager’s motivation, the documented facts and observations are there to speak for themselves, instead of managers having to rely on a busy and sometimes faulty memory to retrieve information. It enhances a manager’s confidence when delivering difficult messages and dispel any sense among her team that team members are treated differently. She can focus on the human energy on her team and generate trust in her as a leader.
Not only is it legally risky not to use documentation in implementing discipline for violating policy, or managing performance on an ongoing basis, it’s a total waste of time and a morale killer for everyone involved. Managers need to understand how documentation benefits them in managing the performance of their employees, how putting in a little time to put it in writing will pay off dividends down the road, and also how it’s required as part of their expected performance as managers.
Guess who can help deliver and reinforce this message? HR! Don’t just tell managers that they can’t do what they want to do because documentation is required for legal or policy barriers-relate it to the business reasons that enhance the success of the organization. I’m always in favor of saying “Yes, and this is how you do it” as opposed to always being the “HR No Machine.” Bringing the “no, no, no” is a way to make sure you get tuned out and kept out of the loop. Be the the go-to resource to help your managers develop the documentation skills they need, and make it as easy for them as possible to do their best work and support compliance at the same time.
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