Get it Noted

Yesterday I was reminded of a salutary if painful lesson. You can never keep too many good quality notes. A few years ago I bought my office from a builder (Thomas Betts & Co). The office was in a derelict state and needed a lot of work. Some of our conversations were recorded in writing – but some weren’t. The work progressed (some was never done) and we moved in a mere six months late.

As time went on it became clear that in a number of areas the work was poor or hadn’t been done. It took £10k to correct the deficiencies (so far) and the MD, a Nicholas Fuller, refused even to meet to discuss them, never mind correct them. I really can’t recommend them at any level

Workplace records

So I took him to court – and yesterday I lost. The judgement was not an endorsement of the work (far from it), but the onus was on me to provide the evidence. I did provide it, but the courts require a level of evidence which greatly exceeds the communication requirements of daily life. It wasn’t enough. A little frustrating – but heigh ho. What comes round and all that.

As employers we are busy getting on with things and note taking often takes a dive. My recent experience prompts me to remind you to keep notes as if one day you’re going to end up in court. We shouldn’t have to do this, but with tribunal applications up 90% you’d be mad not to do so.

The ongoing effect of bad notes (or omitting notes altogether) can really damage your business.

In additional to operational type meetings, you should also take notes when you:

  • have a recruitment interview
  • train staff
  • have a team meeting
  • have scheduled one-to-ones
  • provide informal guidance on performance or conduct
  • deal with an informal grievance
  • you do an investigation
  • chair a discipline or grievance meeting (or appeal)
  • hold any form of restructure or redundancy meeting
  • discuss actions with a mentor or coach

Courts require you to prove that you have followed every step so don’t just take notes. Make sure that a dated copy of the notes goes to the employee(s) at the time.

There are no rules when it comes to how you take your notes. The best kind of notes are the ones that will make sense to you later, whatever they look like.

Lists are the most traditional kind of note-taking. You start at the top of the page with the main meeting topic, and then continue your list down with sub-heads as other topics come up.

Leave space between sub-heads as you go, since the meeting may circle back to a topic (or you may have questions or new ideas you want to record), and you will want to have space to add information without making your list sloppy or confusing.

You can also create headings for things like action items, to-dos, decisions made, and any important resources or tools you need to hold onto, so you can have a really actionable list to refer to later on.

If you’re a visual thinker, try a mind map. Start by writing the topic of the meeting at the centre of the page. From there, draw branches out to every key topic discussed.

For example, you might write “Kick-off event” in the middle of your page, and then draw branches out for topics like “press contacts” and “launch day timeline.” Continue drawing branches out for subtopics (getting increasingly detailed), and at the end you’ll have a visual representation of the meeting’s most important points.

One of the biggest struggles people have with note-taking is keeping their notes organised in a way that they can actually revisit in a valuable way later. This means that if your notes are all over the place or completely disorganised, you might as well not be taking them at all. Here are some of the best ways to keep your notes tidy.

Keep notes in one place. Invest in a notebook that you can carry round with you, and that has the versatility you need for the many situations you’ll need to take notes in.

Whichever style you choose, write critical information at the top of every page—the date, meeting attendees, and meeting topic on every page of notes that relates to that meeting—so it’s easy to track.

Good note taking makes it any easier to have good ideas fast or to get more done. It certainly make it easier to prove a case if (when!) you go to tribunal.

For more ideas on recruiting great staff visit the Build Your Dream Team treasure trove.

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DISCLAIMER

Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2018 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.