Business Management: If it isn’t documented then it didn’t happen

Remember, if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen. The reader will need to clearly be able to tell what happened. Do this documentation right away and do not delay.

I know, I know — no one likes to document. It is painful but oh so necessary. You don’t want to type it yet you don’t want to hand write it. You worry about your spelling and grammar. Guess what, that is not really that important. Make sure that you understand the benefits of this important practice while ensuring that others too are using it to its fullest potential. Don’t be left in a jam, allow thoughtful documentation to assist you.

Never take for granted what your staff or other managers know about documentation. They probably do not know much. This is not the kind of thing that many people learned in school. It really tends to be something that people pick up along the way if they were lucky. Take the time to show what you know. Documentation requires patience and can be slow-going. It’s too bad that we don’t have a set documentation time daily, maybe from 3:30 to 4:00 pm each day. Even if we did this, there would still be more to document. Don’t let this make you crazy, take a few minutes each day to stay caught up if possible on the things that need to be preserved in writing.

As I previously stated, documentation is not something that people just innately know how to do. Documentation is learned over time and can be practiced and improved upon. If you are not training your leaders in the art of documentation, you should be right now. Start that practice today. Have a training session or at least a meeting about it. Use a sign-in sheet to document the training.

Wait, why are we doing this in the first place? Documentation is important and goes a long way to protecting the employer. Documentation can also protect you. Documentation can be used and is a general term for noting the events at the workplace without bias. Documentation is a history of what occurred from your point of view. It is a written record of events. You should sign and date this written record. Employees can and should keep documentation as well. This written record can be used during lawsuits, grievances, mediation and other types of employee meetings. Good documentation is helpful for both negative and positive events in the workplace.

Experts agree that documentation should be:

  • Timely
  • Factual
  • Detailed
  • Accurate

Documentation should not be:

  • Dramatic
  • Discriminatory
  • Lies
  • Made up to suit your needs

When beginning the documentation, set the stage.

  • Who are you?
  • Where are you?
  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • What is being said?

No one is expecting the writings of Shakespeare here but do take the time to explain and set the scene. Explain without commenting or adding your opinion. It is okay to explain why you did something but make no judgments. After all, you do not know why someone else did what they did unless they told you specifically. Leave out any facts that do not belong. Note direct quotes when possible but do not quote unless you can be precise and correct. Often when I meet with employees which is all the time, I will take notes. I do this with pen and paper. Once the meeting is over, I type up the notes. I do not wait. I do not wait for weeks. I do this right away. If I include quotes in my notes that is because I wrote down the exact quote. Do not use a tape recorder and never tape record others without their permission.

Remember, you are not writing a Bravo script or a novel. Be truthful and factual. Human Resources do not expect a prize-winning essay from you and we won’t take off points for spelling. The reader will need to clearly be able to tell what happened. Do this documentation right away and do not delay. I had a supervisor tell me the other day when I requested documentation from him, “I’ve slept since then” and he also said that if he had known he had to document this then he would have tried to remember.

Instances that warrant documentation:

  • Termination meetings
  • Disciplinary meetings
  • Performance meetings
  • Coaching sessions
  • Meetings to discuss positive performance
  • Investigations
  • Pay raises

Where should you keep your documentation? I prefer that you hand it to Human Resources to be kept by them. HR will determine where they will keep it and why. You should not keep employee documentation lying around. If you do, you run the risk of confidential items being shared to those that do not need to see it. Always ensure that documentation is being safely kept where others are not able to access it. Do not take paperwork home. Do not put these documents in your car. I repeat — do not take them home, leave them in your car or places that the privacy of the conversation is not protected. This will put you at risk. Also, how would you like it if pieces of your private life or job performance were lying about the office or break room for all to see? You would not like it one bit. Be the professional and take care of this as it should be taken care of. If you cannot do this or do not wish to — please excuse yourself from this role immediately. Tough love here, I know, but it must be said. This is important. Remember, if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.

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Angela Holmes is a SHRM certified human resource expert, writer and public speaker. She is best known for her human resource career in Williamson and Jefferson, IL counties. Angela is the Vice President of Human Resources at National Railway Equipment Co. (NRE) and can be reached at angelaeholmes2@gmail.com, follow her on Twitter at @Angela_Holmes_1 and Instagram at @aholmes91


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