Employee Documentation

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.


A business owner from Oregon called me the other day to talk about conducting employee performance appraisals, documenting on-the-job behaviors, and providing feedback as part of the review process.  Due mostly to the chagrin of supervisors, complemented by the irritating tone offered by human resources professionals, the expression “document, document, document” has now attained benign, cliché status.

Supervisors blithely say they do not have enough time to document their employees’ behaviors, which is simply a lie.  Truth is, they do not want to do it out of fear of ignorance, reprisal, or confrontation.  Keep in mind, supervisors get paid to supervise.  Isn’t part of their salary to observe, evaluate, and improve their employees’ job performance?  ”Yes,” it’s part of “their job”; despite their distaste for doing it, they are paid to do it.  What would a customer say if a mechanic got paid for changing the oil on the customer’s car, but said while he changed the oil, he did not replace the oil filter because he did not want to get dirty?

Would the customer offer the mechanic a tip, accept the excuse, and provide a glowing Yelp review?

In tandem, human resources professionals have lamentably adopted the role of hierarchical auditor rather than horizontal coach when discussing employee discipline, documentation, and feedback with supervisors, managers, and executives.    Take it easy human resources professionals:  I know, I know; it’s frustrating.  I’ve been there a thousand times.  But it’s part of “our job” to improve supervisory skills, improve employee job performance, and improve the company culture.  If we stop coaching them, should we get a pay cut? 

As I explained to the business owner, when I was the Director of Human Resources at Bemus Landscape, Inc.  I had four direct reports.  As such, I knew I had to do their annual performance reviews.  To strengthen the efficacy of that process, my subordinates’ acceptance of the feedback, and my supervisory credibility, I spent every Friday afternoon from 3:00 – 4:30, revisiting every email, phone message, anecdote, meeting, and observation, and documented them in a Word document identified for each employee for that week.   Here is an example of some of that documentation for Alex:  

  • Alex and I (2/6) attended the annual Unit-Stat meeting with Employers Direct.  Alex was well prepared, knowledgeable, and professional.
  • Alex (2/5) over-communicated to the field by distributing the “mortar mix eye injury protection” e-mail.
  • Alex (2/5) took the initiative to write and translate training content on tire pressure that will be added to Safety Agenda #3.
  • Alex (2/5) provided a quick turnaround on translating Administrative Policy 105 due to recent changes to the paid Holiday schedule.
  • Alex (2/4) came up with the great idea of deleting the PIN numbers from the WEX system for all terminated drivers.  He, Jeanette, and I will meet next week to reconcile this task.
  • Alex (2/3) sent the Lost and Damaged Equipment Spreadsheet to me late today.

At the time of each annual review, I distributed a 13-15 page Word document containing every documented item to each employee, that was captured during my 52 weekly Friday afternoon reflections that justified my supervisory role (and pay rate) and each performance rating I assigned.  Efficacy, acceptance, and credibility were never questioned.

Naturally, I offered this same technique to the Oregon business owner in the hope that its administrative simplicity, inherent job relatedness, and supervisory validation would be adopted by the company, be coached by human resources, and be reinforced by the culture (e.g., executive-level accountability, monthly HR meetings with supervisors, submittals with employees’ annual performance reviews, and quarterly workforce planning sessions).  

Documentation does not have to be bureaucratic, intimidating, or avoided.  But it has to be done.

By the way, how much of a tip did you give that mechanic for not replacing your oil filter?

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.