Documenting Performance to Improve Performance

Most managers rarely document performance unless they are required to. Still, in the regular course of business, managers often inadvertently create a paper trail of notes, paperwork, end-product reviews and, especially, email correspondence. Indeed, email dialogues may be the only way in which a lot of managers document the details of an employee’s day-to-day performance. Whether they realize it or not, when they use email, these managers are creating detailed written contemporaneous records to spell out expectations, evaluate work in progress, praise employees or lambaste them. But the bulk of an employee’s formal “file” is made up of quarterly or annual reviews, development plans, rankings, numbers, perhaps occasional nominations for bonuses and awards and, of course, any formal write-ups of misconduct or persistent failure.

Often managers rigorously document performance when one of their employees has serious performance problems. One senior human resources executive explains, “Usually, a manager calls when she wants to take some kind of disciplinary action against an employee. So the HR specialist will ask the manager, ‘How long has this been going on?’ Usually, it’s a problem that’s been going on for a long time. ‘Have you been documenting this problem?’ The answer is, typically, ‘No, not really.'”

If the problem has been going on for three years and the manager hasn’t been documenting it all, HR can’t do much to help them. Instead, they will provide the manger with a formal documentation process that will allow the manager to meet the requirements for taking disciplinary action. Usually there is a process for recording requests and written warnings. After the second written warning, the manager can put the employee on what is called a PIP.

SEE ALSO: The Undermanagement Epidemic

PIP stand for Performance Improvement Plan. PIPs are very common in the world of human resources. The PIP is considered a punitive disciplinary process that usually follows a number of verbal and written warnings. The manager and the employee together set clear expectations and work out a plan for what the employee needs to do to improve performance. Goals are broken down into concrete steps and to-do lists with tight deadlines, and guidelines and parameters are clearly spelled out. Every week — or sometimes every day — the manager is supposed to closely monitor the employee’s performance according to the plan and regularly document whether the employee’s performance meets expectations.Documenting Employee Performance

In short, the standard punitive disciplinary process for employees with the most serious performance issues actually forces managers to do what they should have been doing every step of the way anyway! It should be no surprise that the PIP process succeeds about half of the time in improving performance. The standard PIP actually covers the basics of managing. If it works this well with employees who have developed track records of serious performance problems, imagine how well it works with employees who are already doing just fine.

The PIP process should become standard operating procedure for everyone. The standard Performance Improvement Plan is the perfect format for documentation: The manager writes down expectations for the employee at the beginning of each week, then closely monitors and documents how the employee’s concrete actions are meeting those expectations. That’s exactly what every manager should be doing with every employee — good, bad and average. Document how every employee’s actions are meeting expectations every step of the way.

What you need is a process that is simple and easy to use, not a bunch of cumbersome paperwork to hold you back. You need a process that is practical so that you will stick to it.

Whether you use a notebook or a software program, you need to capture certain key pieces of information.

Expectations. Goals and requirements that were spelled out. Instructions given or to-do lists assigned. Standard operating procedures, rules or guidelines reviewed. Deadlines set.

Concrete actions. Write down observable facts only. What have you observed the employee doing while watching? What does the employee say when asked about his actual performance? What do his self-monitoring tools reveal? What does your ongoing review of work product tell you? What do you learn about the employee’s actions when you ask around?

Measurements. How are the actions matching up against the expectations? Has the employee met requirements? Did he follow instructions, standard operating procedures and rules? Did he meet his goals on time?

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world, a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his website

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