Is Your Organization’s Performance Documentation “Fluff”?

When is performance documentation considered fluff?

A recent email from a client made us aware that there can be a perception that some documentation could be “fluff”. A synopsis of their concerns and others we have heard could be stated this way:  My supervisors are documenting “fluff”. How can I get them to stop with the frivolous stuff without curtailing meaningful documentation?

How to Make Performance Documentation Meaningful

If you’re a Guardian Tracking client you’ve heard our simple question “Did it turn your head?” when deciding if an event should be documented. In other words, did someone’s behavior (negative or positive) turn your head and leave you thinking; “that’s exactly the kind of behavior that furthers the mission of the organization” or “that’s not acceptable behavior and could damage the reputation of the organization”? If so, the event should be celebrated or corrected through a conversation with the employee and then documented in a location transparent to the employee.

This simple rule should typically guide you when deciding if an event should be discussed and documented. However, if you feel some documentation is fluff then further discussion may be necessary. This is where the second part of the question becomes relevant; How can I get them to stop with the frivolous stuff without curtailing meaningful documentation?

It might seem easy to look at an event documented in Guardian Tracking and quickly conclude it is “fluff”; that it has no value and should not have been documented. The fact is it could be fluff, but it could also have significant value that you might not be able to glean from the documentation itself.

Many of you know we believe first-line supervisors should be the first point of review for an intervention flag. Why? Because they are in the best position to notice behavior changes that could indicate an employee is struggling. If you agree with this line of thinking, then we can use the same logic to help us determine if the documentation we are concerned with is fluff.

In his book, “Bringing Out the Best in People”, Aubrey Daniels states:

Reinforcement and rewards that are earned lead to higher self-esteem and personal growth. Earned recognition and rewards increases performers’ feelings of confidence and competence. These performers have visible evidence that they add value to the organization. Confidence leads to an increase in initiative and a willingness to try new ideas. What organization can’t profit from that?

The point Daniels makes is that if we pass out reinforcement and/or rewards that are not earned (we are calling this fluff) it has no value to the employee or the organization.

However, trying to apply this globally to the entire organization would be a mistake. We know that every employee is different and the feedback they need to be successful and understand their value and contributions to the organization is different. If you are dealing with an employee who has been struggling in certain areas, or one who has been disciplined for sub-standard performance, maybe documenting expected behaviors does have value. An example might be this:

You have an employee who struggles with turning in certain reports as required by policy. The problem is thought to be serious enough that you conduct a documented counseling session. At this point one of two things will happen; the employee will come into compliance with the policy, or will continue the same unacceptable pattern. In this example, as you monitor the situation the employee makes the necessary correction and all reports are complete, accurate and submitted on time. You celebrate this achievement with the employee and document the changed behavior. In this case would documenting that the employee had completed all reports on time be fluff?

The point is that for most of your employees this type of documentation would not be necessary and would be considered fluff. In fact, it might be offensive to a high performing employee. But in the example above, the employee is appreciative of the documentation because it shows the effort taken to improve was noticed. If you think documentation is fluff have a conversation with the supervisor. You might change your mind and find that for the employee involved the documentation had purpose. Remember, the goal of recognizing, celebrating and documenting performance is to get desirable behaviors to continue. If the “fluff” entries are reinforcing desirable behaviors, then they have purpose.

“Did it turn your head?” might be a good guide in most cases. If you think a supervisor is struggling to understand your organization’s expectations governing performance documentation, ask them to reflect on this when considering whether to document; “Will providing this feedback leave the employee more motivated to continue a desired behavior?” If the answer is yes, it’s not fluff!


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