• Julie Sumner

What, When, How: Part 2

The In's and Out's of "When" to Document

Welcome back and thanks for tuning into part two of our series! Today, we are going to tackle when to document. Seems pretty straightforward - whenever something happens, right? Well, yes, but here are some guidelines to help:

Change the “anytime” in Part 1: What to Document to “everytime”. Yes, every time one of the events outlined in Part 1 occurs, document it. This helps you build a paper trail that can help the company down the line. Take these three examples:

  • If you’ve spoken to an employee five times about his performance and you’ve documented each conversation, you’re in a much better position to defend your actions than if you’ve only documented 1-2 of those conversations;

  • If you have documented every time a subcontractor has not performed according to the contract, you’re in a much better position to argue the sub should be responsible for any costs associated with the sub’s non-performance;

  • If you have documented that you inspected a piece of equipment, found it defective, took it out of service, and repaired it, you are in a much better position to defend yourself than if you documented the discovery of the defect, but not the repair (I’ve seen this happen time and time again).

Document at the time it happens. It may be tempting to wait “until you have time”, but that time may never come. Plus, our memories fade unbelievably fast. It’s better to take the 5 minutes now, when it’s fresh in your head, than to risk forgetting important details or forgetting to document altogether.

When your gut tells you to. If something feels off - jot down a quick note. If you’re not buying an employee’s story, write it down (including why you don’t believe the employee). If something tells you this situation is going to come back and “bite you in the butt”, document it!

  • Example: An employee asked for time off for personal reasons. The manager thought the request was strange, but granted it anyway. He did not document the request or the fact that it was requested for “personal reasons”. The employee later alleged that the manager had not been assigning her work because of her race and gender. If the manager had documented the request and the reason stated when it occurred, it would have been much easier to prove the employee’s complaint of gender/race discrimination was without merit.

I can hear you now: “But, Julie, if we document all of this stuff every time it happens, we’ll be documenting all day! We’ll never get any work done.” Trust me, this is one of those “pay now or pay later” situations and the cost only increases as time marches forward. If you get into the habit of documenting things as they happen, it will become part of your routine and will only take a few minutes at a time. And you’ll be so appreciative when an issue arises later on and you have a record to look back on to show what happened.

Trust me. Give it a shot.

Talk soon,


a.k.a. Diva of Documentation


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