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April 10, 2015
What Any Manager Needs to Know About HR
April 30, 2015

Nobody goes into an HR, or management, position in the hopes of one day getting the chance to document an employee performance issue.  But, effective documentation is a necessary aspect of legal compliance for employment records, and part of our responsibility.

Fortunately, with some practice, and following guidelines outlined below, successful performance documentation can be learned.  Why I say it is an “art” is because, when HR or a manager is able to frame the conversation about the performance issue in a positive manner as an “opportunity for improvement” and get the employee’s buy-in to commit to change – not an easy feat! – then they have mastered this “art”.  Discussing performance issues can become powerful coachable moments rather than unpleasant compliance requirements.

When you’re in need of documenting a performance issue, here are some guidelines to remember:

  • The 5 W’s of Documentation: Who was involved or has first hand knowledge? What happened? Where and When did the issue take place? Use specific dates and times if possible.  And finally, get the employee’s insight into Why the issue occurred.
  • Just the Facts: Don’t allow emotion or assumptions to cloud the facts. If you’re writing about an angry employee outburst – write HOW the anger was displayed (raised voice, gestures, etc.).
  • How is it a Problem: Document which policy the employee violated and how it was violated.
  • Recommended Action: Document what step of disciplinary action you’re taking and why you’re taking that specific step (for example, reference previous infractions if this is the 3rd incident of an issue).
  • Timeline for Improvement: Document and discuss how the employee can improve in the future and recommend a mutually agreed upon timeline for when the improvement should take place.

When you’re ready to discuss the documented issue with an employee, make sure that:

  • The discussion is in private and kept confidential
  • That there is a witness in the room (member of HR, another supervisor or leader)
  • That it is scheduled in a timely manner to when the issue took place, but not while emotions are high in the heat of the moment

Remember, treat performance issues as “opportunities for improvement” and emphasize that the organization is in support of everyone being successful.  Use effective documentation to support a solid corrective action plan and use this time to have a meaningful conversation with employees that focuses on the future and effective change.

Have you had run into any difficult employee issues that have been hard to document?  Has HR been a helpful resource at your organization?  Share your stories below!

Catherine Schmidt
Catherine Schmidt
Catherine Schmidt is a former member of the Purple Ink team. She has a special interest in career coaching and recruiting and finds joy when she can connect the right person to the right opportunity.

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