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What Should I Document as Part of Performance Management?

While documentation can protect you in a legal issue, supporting your assessment when questioned in court, it also ensures you conduct accurate and effective appraisal discussions with your employees. Consequently, you want to be sure you document helpful information. Which means, for instance, you shouldn’t document hearsay ("Tim says Roger is starting to drink at lunch time"). Nor should you include opinions, even your own ("I don’t think Ed has what it takes to work here long term"). Your conclusion may be justified but isn’t a valid record.

Good documentation enables a third party, reading the record, to come to the same conclusion you have. This is possible only when you provide a detailed description of specific incidents and facts.

Here are some other don’ts when documenting an employee’s performance:

  • Don’t document rumors.
  • Avoid personal comments about employees.
  • Don’t quote others’ casual comments or opinions.
  • Keep a record, too, of remarks—good and bad—from customers or clients or others outside the firm.

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Don’t document rumors. You shouldn’t use them to evaluate an employee, so they don’t belong in your employee log.

Avoid personal comments about employees. So Elaine dresses like a gothic heroine, and her hair is stringy and makes her resemble pictures of Medusa. They have nothing to do with her job performance unless her job involves lots of client contacts and you work in a tradition-bound industry.

Don’t quote others’ casual comments or opinions. So Harry thinks Lucy is lazy. That shouldn’t go into your notes. However, you can report that Harry Conover reported that Lucy refused to lend a hand to colleagues faced with tight deadlines. She completes her work then sits and waits for her next assignment or walks about socializing rather than seeking out work.

The most important thing you should be documenting is your observations and facts—concrete successes, skills learned, problems solved or, the reverse, careless mistakes, knowledge and skill gaps, or problems caused. Include observations from other managers who have worked with the employee, describing specifically what happened according to the third party. If your employee works offsite, then you have to depend on observations of other people.

Keep a record, too, of remarks—good and bad—from customers or clients or others outside the firm. Don’t forget, either, to note when one of your employee’s performance impacts the output or jobs of others and how their behavior has done so—good or bad, again.

Purchase a notebook or create a template on your computer. Every week, take a few minutes to write critical incidents that have occurred involving your employees. You don’t have to describe each and every thing that occurred. Instead, you want to record "critical incidents"—those circumstances that reflect well or poorly on the employee’s job performance over the previous week. Friday afternoons are often a good time—say, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., when the day is coming to a close—to update your records.