Here's a list of tips for increasing the effectiveness of documentation
Memphis Business Journal - August 4, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
Here's a list of tips for increasing the
effectiveness of documentation
Memphis Business Journal - by Barbara Richman
Effective documentation is an essential ingredient of successful supervision, yet it is also
frequently viewed as a tedious and boring chore that takes time away from more important
and productive work impacting the operations of the organization. It is a responsibility that
is far from the top of supervisors' and managers' lists of favorite things to do.
Recognizing this perception, all levels of management can place documentation in a more
positive perspective by understanding its immediate and long-term value and the overall
benefits that it provides.
Documentation serves as a basis for pinpointing areas where employees are performing well
and those that need improvement, communicating specific feedback to employees, reaching
more accurate decisions, and defending actions if litigation or other challenges arise.
There is an expectation by employees, other management, hearing officers, investigators,
judges, and juries that the employer will have documentation in place to support
Therefore, effective documentation is a key factor in communicating decisions reached and
determining whether or not related actions stick.
Documentation based on facts generates confidence in the process and provides credibility
for the decision-maker when explanations are necessary.
Although actions taken may be appropriate, they may be overturned if supportive
documentation is poorly drafted or lacking.
Effective documentation provides an additional benefit in the event that decisions are
In such cases, an external hearing or court proceeding may be months or even years away.
During the time between the decision and a review by external parties, memories often blur
or even fail regarding the specifics of events that took place.
Documentation triggers the ability to recall necessary details and can mean the difference
between success and failure in the outcome of a case.
The following are basic tips to increase the effectiveness of documentation in your
1. Maintain documentation on all employees. Focusing on some employees and overlooking
others may raise questions regarding consistent treatment and potential discrimination.
2. Include specific information on each employee's strengths and needs for improvement in
your documentation. Both aspects are required to portray a balanced and realistic picture of
an employee's overall performance.
3. Communicate information that is being documented to employees as soon as feasible.
Provide specific feedback that establishes expectations for performance changes when there
is a need for improvement. Also, provide positive reinforcement for existing behaviors that
are effective and need to be continued.
4. Document what took place in a situation as close to the time of the event(s) as feasible. It
will be more difficult to draft an accurate statement of the facts if there is a delay in
documenting an incident or observation.
5. Date all documentation. Use the date when it is written or becomes effective, as
6. Write documentation in a manner that is easy to decipher at a later date. Use language,
grammar and spelling appropriately to create a readable document. Ensure that your
handwritten documentation is legible.
7. Use caution when doodling in notes that you take, such as when interviewing employees.
Keep in mind that this unintentional scribbling will, in all probability, become a part of your
8. Review documentation once it is written to ensure that it includes sufficient details (e.g.
times, locations, weather conditions, noise level) to enable you or others to use it as a
reference to re-create what occurred. Ask yourself whether it contains direct observations
regarding an incident and answers questions, such as who, what, when, where and why.
9. Be specific, objective, accurate and factual in your documentation. Avoid personal
opinions and beliefs, vague statements, generalizations and assumptions.
10. Consider the tone of your documentation and avoid derogatory, accusatory, or similar
comments about employees.