When Big Things Happen (Good or Bad), Document Them!

By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job, Twitter: @Lilymwhiteman

As the saying goes, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” For your work life, this means: The more you document an important event, the easier it will be for you to prove that it happened.

Examples of the types of professional events that warrant careful documentation include the following:

YOUR VICTORIES: Maintain a “success file” for storing documents that validate your success, such as annual reviews; awards; evaluations of trainings or presentations you delivered; praising emails from supervisors, managers, stakeholders, clients or other important professional associates; and records of impressive metrics that reflect your work. Also, store articles involving your work that are published in newsletters or the press, and publications or noteworthy social media postings (with associated metrics) that you produce.

In addition, if your supervisor or another manager praises you orally, write down what s/he said and file your transcript of the praise in your success file. Alternatively, if a manager other than your supervisor praises you orally, consider responding by saying, “I’m sure that my supervisor would like to know that you’re pleased with my work. Could you please tell him what you just told me in an email and cc me on the email?” By using this technique one of my clients earned a $500 on-the-spot award from his supervisor.

Warning: File praising documents in your success file immediately upon receiving them, before you forget about them or they become forever lost in your overflowing in-box.

Your praise file may provide content for a “success portfolio” you bring to interviewers. It may also provide grist for your resume. For example, if you regularly receive outstanding annual reviews or if you’re most recent annual review was outstanding, say so in your resume.

Your success file may also help you refute criticism, which unfortunately may unexpectedly hit you at any time. For example, suppose you receive an undeservedly negative annual evaluation from a new supervisor or from a longtime supervisor who, for whatever reason, turns on you. Documents from your success file would provide objective validation of your productivity that may support your appeal of the undeserved evaluation.

THE OUTCOME OF PLANNING MEETINGS: When tasks are only delegated orally to a team, some tasks may be forgotten and misunderstandings about responsibilities may develop. So if you lead a team, you may promote effective follow-up by sending to your team a post-meeting email reviewing the division of labor identified at the meeting.

VERBAL PLEDGES OF NEW RESOURCES: Suppose a manager verbally promises to provide you with new funds or personnel. Respond by sending the manager an email confirming his pledge — and consider sending the manager’s supervisor a cc of the email. Such documentation may help protect you from unauthorized pledges, quickly fading memories and management shakeups that may otherwise invalidate oral pledges.

EXTREMELY NEGATIVE INTERACTIONS WITH MANAGERS AND COLLEAGUES: Suppose, for example, you must work on projects with a colleague who becomes obstructively unreliable — routinely missing appointments and ignoring deadlines for no reason, even after you diplomatically address the issue with your colleague. So, left with no other recourse, you eventually decide to inform your supervisor of your colleague’s unreliability.

You would strengthen your case to you supervisor by providing him with hard evidence of your colleague’s unreliability. This evidence might include documentation of the many appointments that your colleague accepted via Outlook (not just via verbal agreements) — but then missed, as well as documentation in emails from your colleague of the many deadlines he committed to meeting — but then missed.

Also, if a manager or colleague harasses you, immediately write down the time/date and a detailed description of the interaction.  Then email this information to yourself so that your description of the interaction will be time/date stamped. This documentation will be invaluable to you if you decide to report the incident to the proper authorities immediately or in the future as a pattern of behavior.

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