Though every assessment leaves documented evidence, the review itself shouldn’t be the only information generated. If it is, you have no way to verify its accuracy. The evaluation should include a summary of a year’s worth of documentation, covering a variety of processes and behaviors.

Documentation Creates a Point of Reference

Human memory is fallible. We tend to remember events close to the beginning of a period and near the end. The primacy effect is particularly common with new employees. Without any intervening associations, the first impression is highly significant.

This causes a lot of trouble with new employees or ones whose duties have expanded or changed. It isn’t fair to judge them against the standard by which experienced employees are measured. Unfortunately, because of their inexperience, they’re quite often judged by those first stumbling steps. This can give the impression that the employee is having trouble. This can also cause a negative bias where those first mistakes are generalized to all other areas.

Comprehensive documentation enables you to accurately track an employee’s performance throughout the year. You can see whether a worker struggled at first before gaining enough experience to perform to the expected standard or is still having trouble. This can also serve as a reminder of what measures you took to correct any problems.

Consistent Documentation Rules Out Performance “Flukes”

The “recency effect” is also particularly common. This occurs when more recent events override the memory of distant ones. The most frequent issue associated with this phenomenon is that everyone tends to be on their best behavior when it’s performance evaluation time. Without proper documentation, you might assess an employee at a higher average performance than he or she actually achieved. Sometimes the reverse happens when a worker with generally good performance makes a major mistake late in the year. This blunder then remains in the evaluator’s memory and colors the performance rating.

Either way, documentation can help you asses an individual’s actual overall performance. Assessment rating tools that rate individual behaviors are a particularly useful way to document this information. This can help you track your employee’s performance throughout the year and translate it into a final review.

Justifying Assessment Rankings With Documented Evidence

Providing evidence is another important purpose of documentation. For example, many companies require that particularly high and low ratings are justified. This process is a lot easier when you have recorded enough pieces of performance information. Keeping records can help you rationalize an excellent rating or demonstrate the problems workers are having.

Document anything related to job performance. Computers make this a lot simpler, as you no longer need to keep endless paper files to have adequate credentials. Make notes about projects assigned, projects completed, and the quality of the overall process. This includes reporting serious disagreements between coworkers, which may influence the project’s final quality.

Tips for Documentation

Standardize the way you document employee performance to ensure accuracy across all areas. Here are a few considerations for reporting protocol:

  • Record any advice you give for handling problems. If you make a recommendation, the employee is responsible for following it and seeing if it helps the situation. If it doesn’t, then remember that the solution didn’t work. If the worker doesn’t follow the advice, it’s his or her responsibility, not yours.
  • Note any special training or events the employee takes part in. Some forms of training may make an individual eligible for certain advancement opportunities. This can help him or her reach personal goals. The highest rating levels often require extra effort on the employee’s part – such as participation in special training.
  • Document significant changes in the employee’s life when you discover them. Weddings, divorces, deaths in the family, and other important events can affect work quality. Keeping a record of these events reminds you to take them into account when rating output and recommending changes.
  • Finally, note overall behavior and demeanor. A part of business is maintaining an appropriate level of formality and respect. Although how the work is performed usually refers to quality, it can also apply to these variables, as well. If an employee is blatantly disrespectful to superiors – or even customers – consider the possibility of a formal reprimand. This often requires evidence beyond the capacity of a standard performance review; keeping correspondence and records is important for establishing patterns.

Be sure to document events as soon as they happen. Save emails and other correspondence, as well. If it ever comes down to a matter of evidence, check that you haven’t deleted or forgotten any detail, however insignificant it might have appeared at the time.

Documentation Is a Two-Way Street

Both employees and managers should note performance throughout the year. This is particularly true if workers have an official role in the review process. If a self-review is a part of the assessment, the individual needs evidence to support higher ratings. Self-assessments are biased by their very nature, so employees need to validate their claims. Remind personnel to keep track of their progress and goals throughout the year and detail any accomplishments or contributions.

If employees assess each other, they should collect similar evidence on their interactions, just as managers do for their subordinates. Any reviewer, regardless of position, should be prepared to support claims related to their peers.

Avoiding Bias and Encouraging Accuracy

With such an emphasis on justification, you should never forget that bias can creep into even the most balanced and neutral assessment. Sometimes just reminding yourself that you may be prejudiced can be enough to conduct a fair assessment. Even if you don’t write down the possible sources of favoritism, take care to remember them.

Overall, documentation is necessary throughout the year. Otherwise you may make key mistakes in writing performance reviews. Some of these may reflect back on you, particularly if they rate an employee as performing worse than he or she actually did. Bad reviews can have severe consequences, so make sure you keep appropriate records and evidence to justify any serious decision. You can also help employees prepare by empowering them with quality self evaluation tools.