In HR there is always discussion about “documentation”, and usually when we talk about it, it’s to discuss how it’s not very good. This is especially true for supervisors and managers who just don’t “have time” to document employee issues or problems. Well…the problem with “not having the time” is that when it comes time to terminate the employee–that lack of documentation can create a serious path to litigation. Why? Because without the supporting evidence that an employer has acted in “good faith” to help an employee do his/her job, it just looks bad when it comes time to separate an employee.
The way to help get supervisors and managers to document performance and behavior problems is to teach them. Yes, I said “teach” them. Often, I hear HR professionals grumble about how managers don’t document…they don’t have time, etc. However, what I find as an HR Consultant is that often managers just really don’t know how. They’re not good at writing, they’re afraid to write the wrong information, and they’re scared to death of writing something that could get the company sued. So, they procrastinate… And, let’s face it, most supervisors put off coaching and feedback conversations with employees because they’re usually uncomfortable. Who likes to be uncomfortable???
Another aspect of this issue of “I don’t have time” is that it may really be a true reason why managers aren’t documenting. An issue I have been talking about a lot these days is job design and specifically manager’s job design. If you’re an HR professional who is struggling to get your managers to do good documentation, a great place to start is to look at how each of your manager’s jobs are functioning–or not. Look at the reporting structure, span of control (how many direct reports), how many “virtual” employees the manager is responsible for, and also look at how the job has changed. Is this manager supposed to be an operations manager; yet, most of his duties are wrapped around project management? Is he in a ton of meetings, on conference calls, traveling, etc. because of the “project” part of his job? Well, it could be the project part of the job has grown so much that he’s struggling to do the basic operational leadership parts of his job… Just to give you an example. So, have a hard look at job designs to see if you’re asking your managers to perform in jobs that have had “job description creep” the point that the way the job functions is completely unrealistic.
Now, on to some documentation tips…
Here are a few recommendations to get your managers documenting performance and behavioral issues:
1. Create simple templates they can use for the various types of violations: harassment, attendance, conflict of interest, etc. Put these on a shared drive that they can access, so everyone is using the same template.
2. Create simple templates they can use for behavioral issues and provide a guide for feedback and coaching discussions. Advise managers on how to craft a simple “summary of discussion” email back to an employee. This will provide the first step in documenting that a coaching discussion took place and that behavior and/or performance expectations were set.
3. When an employee’s problem has not turned around, and the next step is a written warning. Ensure there are also templates for the supervisors to use that speak to the various types of behavioral issues. If an employee was disrespectful, unprofessional, or demonstrated behavior that doesn’t align with company values, make sure there are templates the supervisors can use to address these issues. And, make sure the documentation gets tied back to behavioral competencies. So, if a manager is going to document that one of his direct reports has not been “managing change” well and this is a behavioral competency the company values and has as part of the performance review process, the template should prompt the manager to document accordingly. In other words, the manager must document examples of behavior that the employee has demonstrated that are not up to company expectations of “managing change.” Documentation should cite specifics of how the employee has been an obstructionist to change, such as “bad-mouthing” company changes, not supporting others when introducing changes during meetings, etc. Specific examples need to be captured…
4. Conduct documentation clinics — or what I refer to as “table top learning” activities. Present a typical employee issue that would require some coaching and feedback & then ask the managers in the session to document the feedback they gave to the employee. Then, present an employee behavioral issue, one in which the employee has violated the code of conduct. Perhaps an employee who was insubordinate and got “mouthy” with a supervisor, or similar situation. Ask the managers in the session to describe how the “mouthy” or other inappropriate behavior violated company policy. In other words, get them better trained in how to spot poor behavior and correlate that poor behavior to company policy. Then, ask them how they would handle the situation, in the moment, with that employee. And, then have them document according to your company policy. It may be they will write a disciplinary warning letter. Or, it may be the behavior was egregious enough to warrant a termination. Regardless of the decision, it is important to train them on a) how to spot bad behavior that is a violation of policy, b) identify which policy was violated, c) how to handle the violation “in the moment” with the employee, and d) how you want them to document that particular type of incident. The more you do of this type of “how to” training, the better your leadership team will be!
Until next time!