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Prevent 101 Problems with a Supervisor's Log

Have you ever known you were right but not been able to prove it?

Have you ever had little problems with an employee, none of which by themselves amounted to much but taken together were signs of a larger problem? And then not been able to recall the history of those problems when you wanted to take action?

Have different circumstances called for treating employees differently but you were afraid of a discrimination claim?

Have you ever had a vendor's sales department tell you one thing, their service department tell you something else and you were unable to recall the sales person's name?

You can guard against these and a host of other problems with a supervisor's log. It does not need to be anything fancy. In fact, the most effective logs are often the simplest.

You should record everything in your log. Record notes of telephone calls, notes of formal meetings, notes of conversations, ideas that come to you, employee matters (little problems that do not yet warrant notations in the employee's personnel file as well as more serious problems) and why you made particular decisions.

Written comments, made at or near the time of an event, are permissible for refreshing memory in later legal proceedings. As a practical matter, a contemporaneous log documenting events is great proof for heading off what can otherwise be hard to prove claims or defenses.

Your log can be as simple as an 8 1/2 by 11 spiral binder, the kind you may have used in school. Put the beginning date in black felt tip marker on the front cover and leave room to add the ending date when the pages are filled. On the inside front cover, tape your business card with clear packing tape so that if you ever misplace the log, the person that finds it can return it to you.

Whether you use the simple spiral notebook technique, make notes in a day timer, use a computerized system or have some other approach, the information you should capture remains the same. You need to record the date of the event, the date you are making the entry if it is different than the date of the event, the time of the event if that is important, the names of each of the people that are party to the discussions or are otherwise involved, notes of the key points discussed and notes of the resolution if any.

If you are using a spiral binder as your log, put the date in the left column. Opposite the date put a heading of the event (meeting with Jane, call from Jim Rogers, Monday morning staff meeting, etc...) and put your notes under the topic heading. This format will help you in the future when you try to go back to find particular entries.

When I first started to practice law, I assisted in a legal battle between two Fortune 500 companies. Our client's manager kept a contemporaneous log like the kind I described. That log made all the difference in our winning our case. Every supervisor should get in the habit of doing the same thing.

DON'T: Don't get down on yourself if you fail to remember to make notes of an event. You are trying to develop a new habit. Like all new habits, there will be times that you will have to remind yourself to follow through.

DO: Do make notes of all telephone calls.

DO: Do make notes of all meetings. Make sure to include the names of everyone present at the meeting. When making notes of comments made by others, include the name of the speaker.

DO: Do make notes of impromptu meetings you have with people you run into throughout the day.

DO: Do make notes of any problems you have with employees throughout the day.

DO: Do make notes of things employees do that you want to praise or reward at a later time (Ken Blanchard's "The One Minute Manager" approach).

DO: Do make notes of anything that is out of the ordinary in your business.

DO: Do make notes of anything that is important for the operation of your business.

DON'T: Don't make notes of any discussion with your lawyers. Those discussions may be covered by the attorney-client privilege. If others have access to your log, you may be deemed to have inadvertently waived the attorney-client privilege.

DO: Do keep a separate folder just for notes of discussions with your lawyer. Mark the folder "Attorney-Client Privileged" in big bold letters.

DO: Do review your log from time to time. This can be a good management practice. First, reviewing your notes may help you take better notes in the future. Second, by reviewing your notes, you may spot trends or problems that you did not notice during the day to day operation of your business. Third, for organizations that are committed to continuous improvement, this review can be a time to identify things that you have done well and things where you could do better.


Several LegalBriefs subscribers that learned of the new addition in our home asked why I did not make an announcement in LegalBriefs. So, for those that are interested, my wife Gail and I are the proud parents of Katherine Hannah Thayer, born September 13, 2000. She is eating like a champ and growing cuter every day!

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