Documentation? We don’t need no stinkin’ documentation

Formally documenting poor performance is difficult. I get that. It takes time, it is uncomfortable, your handwriting sucks, I understand; but the truth is, if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen. Simply talking about bad behavior isn’t enough. You need to get it in writing.

First off, let’s say that you have someone that just isn’t getting the message and so you need to, well, make the message more clear. By having the behaviors documented, you have a paper trail which can help prove that you have a legitimate reason for whatever your next steps are. It is one thing to say that Barbara was a crummy salesperson. It is quite another to produce documentation of how Barbara missed her sales numbers, and how and when you coached her on how her numbers weren’t up to snuff.

More than this, documentation works as a memory aid – as in “what do you mean I’m only getting an X% merit increase? I’ve had a great year!” to which you respond with, “well, there was the incident with the hole punch and Dave in Accounting…” And if their memory is still a little fuzzy, you simply produce the documentation of the incident and watch the cobwebs go away.

I hear you already: “That’s all fine and good Oh Great HR Guru from the Matchless State of Texas, but I don’t always want to formally sit down and write someone up. I mean, it is just so, well, formal!”

I get it, but if you have a behavior that needs to be addressed, you need to talk to the employee about it. “Ability to read Management’s mind,” is not a viable essential job function, nor does it fall under the wide encompassing “other duties as assigned” clause. Therefore, at the bare minimum, you need to talk to the employee and let them know your concerns. If you don’t feel like sitting down and having a formal write-up session, then you should still circle back with some form of documentation, such as an email, for instance, to cover your bases. It doesn’t have to be formal or even spell out what is going to happen if it continues, just a couple of sentences with some key points and you ought to be covered. Ideally, though you will at least include:

⁃ Incident

⁃ Time, place and date it occurred, and

⁃ Any corrective action you want/need to see.

Something like this:

From: Supervisor (that’s you, by the way)

Date: August 7, 2018

To: Elvis Presley (work with me here)

Subject: Following up on our conversation

Hey Elvis,

It was good talking with you today. I wanted to take just a minute to circle back on our discussion regarding my concern with your leaving the building without letting anyone know. I’m glad to know you understand how this can be a challenge for us from a coverage point of view and can be unfair to other team members who have to adjust their schedules in order to ensure coverage. Just to reiterate, if you need to leave the building, be it for lunch, a break, or any other reason, you must inform either myself or another supervisor. Let me know if you have any further questions.


Supervisor (hint: that’s you again)

So, to summarize: (1) talk to your employee, (2) send a summary note and, (3) get back to important things like asking the HR guy to find out who stole your Lunchables from the refrigerator the previous day (sorry Todd, but we are still not putting up cameras in the break-room).

Just to be clear here, the purpose of the email is to reiterate the conversation, not spare you from the hard part of actually having it. It may seem easier at the time to just fire off a note, but it rarely is. Instead, all you will do is delay the conversation because the employee is still going to want to talk about it, the only difference is that they are going to be madder. Trust me on this, I speak from experience.

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