The former FBI director is a study in some best practices for business.
Regardless of your political persuasion, the details uncovered both in the recent press and Senate hearings with the former FBI Director provide a transferable lesson for the corporate world.
Detailed documentation is key to protecting yourself and your company when potentially litigious situations occur.
No one has the time to document every meeting with meticulous detail. However, when a situation is potentially volatile, it is important to do more than just jot a note in your calendar: “Discussion with Jane Doe about her attitude today." Many times I’ve heard from executives who struggle with how to handle a ‘difficult’ employee whose technical job performance is good, or even great.
An employee who is exhibiting anger or hostility, is condescending or disrespectful can create a toxic working environment.
The way to approach this issue when discussions and coaching have not led to the desired improvement is to note actual behavior and situations. Merely noting your impression that a manager acted in a 'hostile manner' will be far less impactful than chronicling what actually transpired. In court cases, the 'reasonable person' standard is typically used. Therefore, include body language and tone when relevant, for instance, documenting what occurred when a peer disagreed with the manager in the meeting. Reading your synopsis at a later date, would a reasonable person come to the same conclusion as you based on similar circumstances? Take a look at the scenario portrayed in Comey’s testimony here:
“The President and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the Green Room at the White House. … A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on …”
Whether you believe this version of events or another, note that only six words were spoken. Though Comey did inject one subjective image when he wrote of an ‘awkward silence,' most of his account is written in a neutral, detached manner. His description provides a visual picture of the exchange.
There will be times when it will be prudent for you to take the time to transcribe an encounter with significant detail. This is particularly true when witnesses or recordings of incidents are not available. As was made clear in the Comey/Trump conversations, documenting can be a two-way street, with the employee making notes as well, so make sure your account is as objectively written as possible. Consider that in litigation, documentation made at the time of the incident will typically ‘trump’ recollections.
June DeLeo is principal and senior consultant for HR Response, a firm that implements strategies to provide measurable, value-added outcomes to improve business operations. For more information, please visit hrresponse.com/home.html.