Recently actress Mo’Nique came under media scrutiny when she claimed director Lee Daniels had initially offered her the role of Cookie in the now widely popular TV series “Empire.” Daniels went on to publicly claim that he never offered the Oscar-winning actress the role, that Taraji P. Henson was always slated for the project he created.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. During a radio interview, Mo’Nique pulled out a series of emails from Lee that did, in fact, prove he asked her to read for the role.
So should you always establish a paper trail when doing business? Obviously, Mo’Nique’s paper trail cleared her name, and silenced all her doubters.
“All correspondence related to contract negotiations with customers, suppliers, or partners should be saved and tracked. Although final, signed contracts typically stipulate that all previous documentation has no bearing. It’s a good practice to save this documentation in case the interpretation of a particular paragraph or section is ever questioned,” says Tiffany C. Wright, author of ‘The Funding Is Out There! Access the Cash You Need to Impact Your Business.’
“You should keep track of any communication or feedback (both constructive and positive), deadlines, expectations, role responsibility, and planned time out of the office. You should also keep track of any positive reviews from clients and peers. Any communication that could affect your performance evaluation should be on record,” adds career coach Angelina Darrisaw.
In fact, establishing a paper trail can be important for various reasons. “A paper trail keeps track of agreed upon expectations, deadlines, and the time those expectations and deadlines were communicated. It’s necessary for both managers and their team members to have a reference point for when these types of communication are shared,” says Darrisaw.
So how to create a paper trail? Emails are simple to track, but other forms of communication can be tricky. “If important conversations are had in person or over the phone, take notes and follow up with some brief bullets outlining what was shared in the meeting. It is a good opportunity for your colleagues to affirm your takeaways or clarify if they had a different understanding,” offers Darrisaw.
Can a paper trail protect you in the workplace? “It can help with employee evaluations from a managerial perspective. And for employees, it can help in managing up (e.g. Am I constantly getting project deadlines at 5 pm on a Thursday for work expected at 9 am on a Friday? Using the paper trail to point to it consistently happening can help you communicate your need for a different timeline for receiving deadlines.),” notes Darrisaw.
Not only can a paper trail prove important for workers, but for employers, too. “For matters related to employees, managers should document all conversations with employees related to performance. Many small and medium business owners settle wrongful termination suits because they fire someone for poor performance but have no or nearly no supporting documentation,” notes Wright. “If an owner or manager needs to reprimand employees or discuss poor performance, this should be done in a face-to-face meeting with documentation (a 1-pager is sufficient) indicating the nature of the discussion, which both sign. Keep this information in an employee file. If the employee’s performance improves and no additional follow-up is needed, wonderful. However, if the employee’s performance doesn’t improve or it decreases, the owner or manager has a history of documentation that supports a termination (or other formal censure) decision.”