Managers, Don’t Forget to Document

If you have spent significant time and resources coaching a direct report, the job isn’t over until you document that development. Routine documentation is an important part of any performance management or coaching process, as it provides:

  • Follow-up support to your coaching – The most important reason to document coaching sessions is to provide your direct reports with a written record of the coaching so they can reference it back on the job. It serves as a reinforcement of what you discussed.
  • Documentation for HR purposes – If you need to justify a promotion or placing a direct report on a performance improvement plan, your coaching documentation provides a record of the actions you have taken to date.
  • A record for you – Documentation of your coaching sessions can help you plan further development of the direct report or can be valuable when writing year-end performance appraisals.

What You Should Document

You should document any type of performance, disciplinary, or developmental discussion you have with your direct reports. This includes coaching conversations and performance assessment discussions, as well as any e-mails or notes you send to direct reports regarding their job responsibilities or performance. You must maintain records for all your direct reports, not just the poor-performing ones, and you should keep all types of communications, not just the constructive or negative ones.

At first, documenting may seem overwhelming, but the following simple guidelines can ensure that you incorporate recording into your management processes:

1. Send follow-up e-mails.

Send direct reports a follow-up e-mail after every performance- or coaching-related conversation. This not only gives them a written record of the discussion but also provides you with a document of record.

2. Make notes or memos to self.

After every conversation, record an electronic or a handwritten note to yourself that you file away in a safe and secure place.

3. Keep a running log.

Some managers like to keep a running log of conversations in their own personal notebooks or journal logs. This can be effective because you can keep your notes on all your direct reports in one place.

4. Set up an e-mail file.

Store follow-up e-mails along with e-mails you get from your direct reports or from others about your direct reports in a secure place on your computer.

Your HR department will have a policy about how long to retain these documents or notes. A common length of time to retain them is three years, but your company may have a different policy. It’s important not to retain the records any longer than necessary.

How to Effectively Document a Conversation

Your written comments should always be professional and focused on data, observations, and/or facts. There is an adage that describes good documentation: You should never write anything that you would want retracted from the New York Times if it showed up on the front page. If you are having a performance or developmental conversation with a direct report, ensure that your record of the conversation includes:

  • Topic of conversation – Clearly defined subject of the conversation and why you had the conversation
  • What you discussed – The key points discussed; for example, if it was a coaching conversation, then record evidence-based examples and feedback
  • Follow-up action steps – What action you and the direct report agreed to take after the session
  • Date of conversation – Always date any document of record


You may think of other ways to create documents of record. The key is simply to do it. It’s a best practice for trying to develop someone to a higher performance level. It gives direct reports a written record of the conversation, including what they are doing well, what they need to improve, and the action steps you agreed to. From a performance improvement perspective, it provides evidence of the steps you took to improve a direct report’s performance. On the positive side, having comprehensive document-of-record files on your direct reports sure makes year-end performance appraisals easier to write. Or if you’re trying to help a direct report land a promotion, your documentation can provide a record of all the development he or she has achieved.

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