Here's a list of tips for increasing the effectiveness of documentation


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Memphis Business Journal, Published August 4, 2008
Written by Barbara Richman

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Here's a list of tips for increasing the effectiveness of documentation

  1. 1. 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 employment decisions. 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 challenged. In such cases, an external hearing or court proceeding may be months or even years away.
  2. 2. 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 workplace: 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 appropriate. 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 documentation. 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.
  3. 3. Judges and juries may question your intent if they perceive that these types of statements are opinions that lack objectivity, or focus on personalities rather than behaviors. 11. Refer to applicable policies, procedures and other communications in your documentation. References of this nature can provide verification to support your statements. 12. Have employees sign for receipt of policies, procedures, letters or memos, and other communications whenever there is a need to retain documentation that specific information was provided. If the employee refuses to sign an acknowledgment of receipt and/or understanding, either note this refusal on the document or have someone witness that the employee was provided with an opportunity to sign but refused. 13. Document attendance at meetings and a description of what was communicated whenever there is a need to maintain a record of who was present when information was discussed. Follow up with employees who were absent to ensure that they are informed, and document those discussions as well. 14. Provide training or information on effective documentation when an employee enters a supervisory position. This training will enable the organization to avoid potential legal liabilities associated with poor documentation practices. BARBARA RICHMAN is a senior consultant with HR Mpact, a Memphis human resource consulting firm. She can be reached at (901) 685-9084, (901) 496-0462 or barbara@hr- All contents of this site © American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.