I keep documenting things like the lawyers and HR people tell me to do. Where do I keep all the notes?
I get asked that question during performance management seminars all the time. Obviously, you can’t stick your cryptic Post-It Notes in the employee’s official personnel file. So what do you do? Some supervisors create things they call “drop files” or “supervisor files”. I have seen these bundles of future recycling. They scare me and they are fire hazards. Many supervisors diligently add notes to these files and then are so overwhelmed by all the content, they toss everything and start over. There is a better way. I call it your “Draft Performance Evaluation File” and I think it will soon be your good friend.
For each employee who reports to you, create a file. It can be a paper file like the ones we used in the days before Microsoft. It can be a computer folder. Personally, I like using the paper folder method because I can toss a note inside and not have to mess with opening a document on my laptop. Do whatever works for you, but the key is to do it. Whenever you have an I.T.S. Moment with one of your employees, prepare a short note or entry for the employee’s Draft Performance Evaluation File. You do not need to write anything fancy or complicated. All you need is the date and a sentence or two about the positive (or critical) feedback that you provided. Here is an example:
May 14, 2010: Told Mary she did a great job on Acme Tools report.
Wasn’t that easy? You could attach a copy of the Acme Tools Report to your note and put it in the file, too. It is always nice to have an actual example of the employee’s work when you are praising (or criticizing) it.
You will maintain the Draft Performance Evaluation File throughout the employee’s entire evaluation period. When it is time to prepare the formal performance evaluation, the Draft Performance Evaluation File holds all the raw data you will need to complete the appraisal. I suggest including a blank evaluation form at the front of the file to remind you about the topics that will be addressed in the evaluation. Once you have completed the evaluation, everything in the Draft Performance Evaluation File goes away. You do not need it any longer – the critical information is now in the official evaluation. (If your employer, attorney or OCD condition requires you to keep all of your notes, then put them in a folder marked “Back Up Documentation for March 2010 Performance Evaluation” and file it wherever HR tells you to. Evil Skippy suggests you also see a therapist as soon as possible.)
Consistency is key. Every time you utilize the I.T.S. Moments, put a notation in the file. I mean every time, really I do.
Some supervisors are worried about the confidentiality of these draft files. Don’t waste time worrying – they are not confidential. I am not saying that you should leave these files out for all to see. You should not do that. I am just saying that nothing in these files is a secret. The only events that you are documenting are things that you have addressed with the employee, probably during an I.T.S. Moment. If your employee happens to read the file, nothing in it should be a surprise.
One of the reasons that I love the Draft Performance Evaluation File approach is because I know it works. I get fan e-mail about it. Here is an excerpt from one of my favorites:
Thank you thank you thank you! The I.T.S. method has made me a better supervisor and made my job a lot easier. I used to dread doing annual performance appraisals. It took forever and I never felt like I’d captured the reality of my peoples’ performance over the year. After using your I.T.S. method, the appraisals almost wrote themselves. I had all the information at my fingertips, and I had plenty of specific examples to use to explain my rankings. The whole experience was easier for me and more meaningful for employees. My appraisals are so much better even though it feels like less work. I wish I had taken your class when I first became a supervisor.
Documentation really can be your friend. Really.