By Brenda LaMarche / HR Column 

Addressing employee performance is one of the most important communication issues in business today. Not only do you need to be timely and accurate with this communication, but it needs to be consistently applied to all employees. By taking action when needed, you protect the business and encourage behavior changes for peak employee performance.

Having clear expectations, processes and procedures helps managers do their jobs and encourages good performance in employees. Best practices include creating and distributing employee handbooks that define appropriate employee conduct, forms to help with written and verbal communication, and a clear process for managers to follow in addressing performance issues.

Consistency may be the most important aspect of addressing employee performance issues. If you write up one employee for being late often, you must write up any employee doing the same. The attendance issues should be written up in the same way so as to avoid potential liability such as Equal Employment Opportunity complaints.

The employee handbook plays an important role in ensuring that everyone knows the rules and what happens when someone breaks them. It is your first line of defense. Be sure it is well-written and that everyone on your staff reads, understands and signs an acknowledgment of receipt.

Timing is also critical. Performance issues and policy violations should be addressed as soon as possible. Making this a practice, it lets employees know their performance is important. When done properly, it can also be a positive learning experience that changes their performance for the better. Waiting too long after an event occurs diminishes its importance. The employee can more easily dismiss their poor performance if your managers or supervisors don’t take the time to quickly address issues. Your handbook defines what matters, making it easier to do this.

Document any violations clearly and accurately in writing. A form can be used to document what happened, what the employee’s goals are for continued improvement, and what you, the employer, will do if the employee fails to reach his or her goals. Forms help managers with consistency in writing these summaries. The completed form can also guide the conversation between the manager and employee. Following the conversation, it should be signed by the employee and manager and placed in the employee’s personnel file. The language in the summary should always remain professional in nature, avoiding personal opinions, emotional asides and other unprofessional verbiage.

Keep all employee performance documentation factual and accurate. Writeups should never be based on rumors or hearsay. Check the facts of the situation before moving forward with disciplinary action on an employee.

Other types of employee documentation may include performance reviews, coaching meeting notes, terminations, and of course, investigations of harassment claims. Most, but not all, should be retained in the employee’s file; others, such as the coaching meeting notes, can be kept by managers. In more serious situations, good supporting documentation will be especially important in case of future legal action by either party.

Having no documentation at all is the worst-case scenario, especially when faced with terminating an employee for performance issues. Having zero documentation of employee performance puts your company in a very weak position for litigation and unemployment claims.

If you are not documenting employee performance, start by developing or updating the employee handbook, and then create processes and procedures based on your current business practices. Your employees and managers will be glad to know the company’s expectations, and your company will be in a much stronger position to encourage employee success. •

Brenda LaMarche is president of BRL HR Consulting, a human resources consulting and outsourcing firm providing nationwide services, located in North Liberty.