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To document performance, put it in writing.

I'll never forget the day an irate pathologist stormed into my office lamenting the unacceptable behavior of one of his employees. "That so-and-so has been nothing but trouble for the last five years," he shouted. "I want you to fire her!" Unable to recall any particular problem with this individual, I excused myself and left to pull her file.

The employee's records contained a glowing performance appraisal signed by the very pathologist who was now steaming in my office. When I explained our limited options in dealing with the situation, the pathologist was not happy. He had learned the hard way about the importance of proper documentation.

* Three D's. Regarding personnel issues, I always counsel supervisors to practice the three D's: documentation, documentation, and more doc mentation. I caution them to prepare and maintain their personnel records as if they had to defend their positions in court--a situation not outside the realm of possibility. Legal decisions may be based less who is right than on who is better at defending his or her stand.

An effective documentation program begins when a prospective employee is interviewed for a position and continues until that person has left the company. If you keep accurate records, you will have no trouble justifying your decision to hire, promote, compensate, or terminate an individual. Take complete interviewing notes, since a disgruntled applicant might surprise you by challenging your long-ago decision one day.

* Be positive. Records needn't be exclusively derogatory. Record instances when employees perform exceptionally well. Accentuating the positive will promote good employee relations and help justify future decisions on promotions and merit increases.

While it is important to document deficiencies, temporary failure shouldn't haunt an employee forever. Most companies have a statute of limitations after which such documentation is removed from an employee's file if no further violations occur. Purge personnel files regularly, as appropriate, and wipe the slate clean.

Efficient documentation can play a key role in employee counseling sessions. If confronted with accurate records, a skeptical employee may recognize a performance deficiency and work to correct the problem.

More tips:

[paragraph] Accuracy. Clear, precise writing is everything when it comes to keeping good records. I have read employee performance letters that used adjectives as vague as "lazy" and "sloppy." To hold up under careful scrutiny, records must be specific and include examples whenever possible. Avoid terms that are hard to define.

[paragraph] Audience. As you prepare your documentation, keep firmly in mind who might read it. I have seen cases where personnel directors and hospital administrators had to struggle through employee files filled with quality control data and detailed test results. If you must include highly technical information, decipher it so that a human resources director, attorney, or administrator could understand it.

[paragraph] Length. One of the most common mistakes supervisors make when they document employee performance is to be too brief. Some find it a burden to maintain complete files, so they produce sketchy ones instead. If you are tempted to do this, imagine how long it would take to reconstruct events and conversations from years ago if a personnel problem arose that required it.

You aren't expected to compose a novel. In fact, good records are not produced by the aspiring novelist whose rambling sentences are filled with unrelated information and unsubstantiated opinions. Be concise, but include all pertinent facts.

[paragraph] Storage. Confidentiality is vital in maintaining personnel files. All information of this nature should remain in a secure place to which access is limited.

* Insurance never hurts. In this litigious age, even the simplest decision may be closely scrutinized. By taking the time to document personnel matters properly, we can improve decision-making, promote effective employee relations, and justify--in indisputable terms--our supervisory actions and decisions. James M. Maratea, M.A., Contributing Editor The author is administrator of clinical laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pa.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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