A while back, we talked about our Universal Truth (you can tell it's important since it's capitalized):
Inept managers lead to disgruntled employees, which in turn lead to diminishing profits.
Ept managers lead to gruntled employees, which in turn lead to minishing profits.
To that end, we thought we'd offer up the Rules of Managerial Eptitude (again with the capitalizing).
The first one is probably the sentence I've said most often to managers during the past 15 years:
1. Write it down.
Whenever something happens in the workplace that could have future consequences, write it down. Anywhere. I don't really care where. Grab a piece of paper, put the date and time on it, and write down whatever it is. Then put it somewhere safe.
I used to say "Document everything." It sounded more lawyerly, what with its seven syllables and all. But I slowly realized that people worry more about "documenting" something than about just writing it down. People tend to draft documents, which seems like more work. Better to just jot a note. Then stick it in a private file (and not a personnel file, unless and until it becomes a "personnel document" being used to make a personnel decision.)
So why is writing something down so important?
Because it's magic.
Well, almost. Stuff that gets written down takes on a talismanic quality. (That's right, kids. Stuff and talismanic in the same sentence. Don't try that at home.) People — judges, jurors, hearing officers, mediators, arbitrators, and even you and I — tend to believe that something is true by virtue of its being written down.
Imagine we have a case against each other in court. You get on the stand and testify about my dastardly deed. On cross-examination, my crack lawyer asks you when the deed occurred. "Uh," you mumble, "sometime in the spring?" My crack lawyer deadpans, "Sometime in the spring." You look away and say, "I think." My crack lawyer says, "No further questions."
Then I get on the stand. My crack lawyer now asks me when the dastardly deed occurred. I look over at the jury box and say in a strong, clear voice,"On April 16, at 3:45 in the afternoon." Crack lawyer: "How can you be so sure?" I look at the jurors again. "Well, partly because it's my mother's birthday. But mostly because I ... wrote ... it ... down." Game, set, and match, baby. You can't handle the truth! Shepherd out.
Uh, sorry. Actually, my crack lawyer would then make a big show of producing my jotted-down (and date- and timestamped) note, and then the jurors would be all "Oh yes he did." And I'd win.
Something written is more real — more believable — than something unwritten. Sure, I could have written the note the night before the trial began. There isn't going to be any C.S.I.-style carbon-dating of my note going on. But the jury knows that people don't generally do that. If I said I wrote the note at 3:45 p.m. on April 16, it's probably because I did. Which means my side of the story is probably more accurate. Which means I'll probably win.
So managers: write it down. Winning's better than losing.