Keeping a performance log – why not?

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In my previous blog posts, I provide some beginning, intermediate, and advanced fields for a manager to maintain in tracking performance and behaviors of the manager’s team members.  The idea is that creating and managing a log on your employees will improve the way you provide feedback, understand individual performance, and help you remember all of the stuff that happens over the course of the year, as it’s easy to forget.

While there are many reasons to keep a log, there are also some reasons not to keep a log.  Let me go through them and provide some ways to address these objections.

1. It appears as though you are monitoring every move of the employee

If you keep a log on your employees that tracks everything they do, then this will seem obsessive, and it will be impossible to maintain as well.  Being a manager is a lot of work, but it should be meaningful work.  When you manage a log, you need to be judicious about what to put in the log:

–The event logged is important

–The event logged is related to the employee’s performance

–The event logged is related to the employee’s work and goals

–The event logged has some sort of impact

–The event logged should be related to a feedback conversation, either praise or corrective

–The event logged is related to a key deliverable

–The event logged is part of an ongoing effort to change a particular behavior

If the item you enter in the log can meet four or more of the criteria above, then enter it in the log.  If not, don’t bother.  If you start to notice a pattern, then start entering items, with the moment you identify it as a pattern.  Only enter retroactively if you have specifics, but if it is a pattern, then you’ll have plenty of opportunity to enter new stuff as it comes up.

More importantly, the log is less about monitoring and more about giving you a chance to provide specific and immediate performance feedback, and creating the opportunity to change the behaviors based on the feedback for the better.

If the employee is doing a good job, then this monitoring via a log will be perceived as good, as the employee is aware of not only that she is doing a good job, but the impact as well.   If you manage your log –and your employees — well, your employees could actually get to the point where they want to have things added to the log—even the things they did poorly – so that they can prove that they can make corrections.  “Enter that into your log!  I’ll do better next time!”  (Don’t laugh – it is possible!)

2. It could fall into the wrong hands (i.e. your employee or employee’s peers)

Tracking employee performance should be no more or less confidential than an employee performance review.  So it should have the same level of security as your correspondence related to annual reviews.

The key to managing the log is that is should use objective, behavior-based language, and key fields related to the log are related to performance feedback that you are discussing with your employee anyway, so the log, when managed well, is actually one of the more transparent documents you may have with your employee.

If you have a secret log, and never discuss any of the things you are documenting, you are engaging in behaviors that create annual toxic performance reviews, creating a mystery around how the employee’s performance is perceived, and only revealing it once a year.  Yeah, if you are secretly keeping a log, and never discuss with your employee what is on that log, then it is best not to keep a log.

You have to use the log for something – which is to provide performance feedback and track performance issues (both good and bad).  Without that log, you are creating a new risk – not having any idea how the employee performed over the course of the year, never having performance discussions with your employee (or having sloppy, inaccurate discussions), and a toxic performance review.  In this circumstance, your employees will view you with contempt.

3. Non-behavior based language creates problems

If you utilize non-behavior based language in your log, then you are creating a bigger problem than you are solving.  Here are some examples of what NOT to document in your log:

“Alex screwed up again.  He has no ability to do this job,”

“I hate Jim.”

“Jerry is my worst employee.”

If you put unsubstantiated opinion and generalizations such as this, you are actually documenting that you are not capable of assessing someone’s performance, and it can be incriminating of you more than it is of the employee.  If this is the only way you can write about your employees, then you need some help!   Read up on how to document things in a behavior-based way, rather than keep a diary of your personal opinions.  Get assistance in cleaning up your language.  You’re a manager now, so learn this skill of writing in a behavior-based way!

4. It could have some pretty incriminating stuff

Let’s take the example of a belligerent employee on your staff.  He yells at other people, he has used aggressive language, and he bullies people to get his way.  (See the book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t for more examples.)  You’re getting complaints about his behavior.  You have two choices:  Document the complaints and the related behavior in the log, or not.  Let’s look at what happens when you do document it:

When you document the poor behavior — This provides a systemic list of actions by the employee, and it also shows what you did about it.  If you do make attempts to address it, this is documented as well.  This way, you can defend your actions, and can begin the performance management process.  Of course, if you document the bad behavior, but don’t do anything about it, that reflects more poorly on you.  So the log should be a call to action on your part, and keep you from ignoring the situation.  As is always the case with managing, if the situation could be serious or if you don’t know how to deal with it, it forces you to find help – contact your Human Resources department (or qualified HR consultant) for assistance as a first step.  This counts as a first step to action — and remember to follow through.

When you don’t document the poor behavior — This, in my opinion, has more risks.  If you are receiving complaints, and you do not track them, you essentially ignoring the problem.  If you do not have any record of making an attempt to understand and then address the problem, then you are putting your lack of documentation up against someone else’s (the complainant’s) documentation.  Which is going to win when you are confronted by this?  And what were you doing as the manager?  Nothing?  This is going to be very difficult to defend and puts both you and your organization at risk.  Again, rather than ignore the issue and hope it goes away, or that people get used to it, engage in the resources at your company or organization to identify how to address difficult situations.

If you have reservations about managing a log on your employees, and what to include on it, I recommend discussing this with your HR department for guidance on what you are expected to document regarding your employee’s performance.

So there are some reasons NOT to keep a log on your employee.  As with any managerial action, the better you manage your log, and the better you use it to facilitate discussions with your employees, the better the results.  If the log is secretive and opinionated, you are creating a risk.  No log at all?  You have nothing.  That will seem fine — until you’re forced to act, and then you’re managing from a deficit and scrambling.  This is where the most ugly situations can occur.

What have you seen as the upside and the downside of maintaining a log on your employees?  Of NOT maintaining a log on your employees?

Related posts:

Helpful tip for managers: Keep a performance log

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Beginner Level

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Intermediate Level

Important fields that an employee performance log should contain – Advanced Level

How to use behavior-based language to lead to evaluation and feedback

A tool to analyze the greater forces driving your employee’s performance

The Cost of Low Quality Management

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


One Response to “Keeping a performance log – why not?”
  1. tsoe says:

    I’m a new manager and this is practical information.

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