‘Of course, I will remember when Joe shouted at me in the corridor and what he said’, she thought as she sat back down at his desk, a bit shaken by the encounter. No way would she forget those words and the look in Joe's eyes.
Then she went back to working on the report that was due in an hour.
When a similar encounter with Joe happened a few weeks later, she realised she hadn’t written down what happened last time and now couldn’t even remember what date it occurred. She would have to go back through the diary and try and remember when that report was handed in.
“I’ve come to HR because Joe’s behaviour is totally unacceptable, I know I’m not the only person he has spoken to in this manner; and he should get a warning about his conduct.”
This is the kind of conversation HR Managers have all the time with supervisors and managers who want help solving a problem in their team. So my first question, as the HR Manager, is always “When did this start and what documentation do you and the other people have?”
Do you see the problem with this scenario?
If Joe is called in to account for his behaviour he will likely say (perhaps in his best Bart Simpson voice) – “I didn’t do it, nobody saw me do it and there’s no way you way you can prove anything!”
And at this point he would probably be right because NOTHING has been documented.
So what exactly is documentation?
It is the formal reporting of facts, incidents, decisions and even observations of any specific situation or communication that has taken place. In short, documentation provides a written account of activities as they happen. The most common form of documentation is the written word, but it may also include videotapes or audio recordings and so on.
What’s so important about documenting events?
I’ve often been surprised (and shocked) at how poor some organisations are at keeping records of conversation or events. As an HR Manager, good documentation of events in the workplace has saved my skin more than a few times and poor documentation from my predecessors has made my job that much more annoying. It can save managers so much time and aggravation if they do this.
Here's why -
It can establish a pattern of behaviour
What this means is, if you notice one of your employees doing something which isn’t the norm for them, make a note. For example, if you can normally set your watch by the time your employee, let’s call him Bob, comes to work and then Bob starts coming in at unusual times and doesn’t tell anyone why, you should probably take a note of the times and dates. It may be nothing but it may also be something and you can’t just casually raise it in 3 months without some evidence.
When you tell Bob you have noticed he has changed his start times he will likely get defensive and question you about when you noticed and why. Without a record you’ll have nothing to go on and a conversation that starts like this -
“ Oh you know those couple of days in March and in the first week in April and around the second Tuesday in May”
just isn’t going to cut it with Bob. If you discover that Bob has a serious drinking problem a bit later on and his absences are causing work issues and conflict within the rest of the team, you don’t have any real evidence to be able start a discussion.
2. It leads to better decision making
If you document information as events or conversations happen you then have a history of events and if, for example, you are considering disciplinary action you have the evidence and not trying to base this on your memory. Also, by taking the time to stop and make notes about an event or conversation, you can consider the issue more objectively and take some time to consider the next steps.
3. It could prevent an unfair dismissal claim
Documentation justifies that your actions and communications were legitimate. By documenting everything, you have the evidence and you can have a conversation with the person or provide the documentation that shows you have done the dismissal process fairly. Even if you do end up with an unfair dismissal claim, having documentation shows you are aware of what processes are required and that you are following them. (You won’t necessarily win if you haven’t actually followed the process correctly but the documentation can make your case stronger)
If Joe’s Manager had just taken five minutes to note down what had happened during the encounter with Joe on the first occasion, she could have saved himself some frustration and also be a month into resolving the issue and improving Joe’s behaviour and conduct.
In my next blog, I’ll list some of the most important things that you should consider when documenting, such as