The Four Most Important Words in Business (or at Least in Human Resources)

One of the maxims of good HR practice, according to Roger Dusing, PhD, OMNI Consultant & Higher Education Practice Leader, is “talk first, write second” (TFWS). While it typically applies to correcting performance, TFWS has many useful applications. (Image courtesy of ShutterStock)

For decades, OMNI consultants have spouted the maxim – Talk First, Write Second (TFWS). Typically, this has been in conjunction with performance management. We strongly discourage the practice of “writing somebody up,” then meeting with them, handing them the document, and asking them to sign it. That process creates anger and bitterness and does very little to help the employee find ways to be more productive going forward.

Instead, we say, “talk first – write second.” Meet with the employee and talk about the situation. Hear their side of the story. Don’t focus on what happened – that’s in the past and you can’t change it. Instead, focus on your expectations for the next time that situation occurs, and the get the employee’s agreement to meet those expectations. Put together a plan of action to help the employee be successful and talk about the consequences of not being successful. Then, and only then, put that conversation in writing and have the employee sign it to acknowledge their understanding. This process will provide multiple benefits over the write first – talk second model and will also provide stronger documentation should that be needed.

But TFWS doesn’t just apply to correcting performance. Recently I was facilitating a program on delegation and TFWS popped up. Absolutely! Before you delegate a task to someone, talk with them about it, make a plan you both can follow, and then follow that conversation with documentation about what you’ve both agreed to.

How about training? Before you put together a training plan for an employee, talk about it. Make sure you find out what they already know about things. Find out how they learn best and where they want their career to go. Then, write up a training plan that helps you get them to where you need them to be.

Maybe it works with compensation? The “normal” way is to meet with the employee, tell them they’ve been promoted, what their new salary is, and then hand them an offer letter. Or you can talk first about what your plans are and what you can afford to pay and get them excited about that. Then follow that with a written offer letter that references your conversation.

The magic of TFWS is based in the premise that you don’t know everything. I know for some of you that might be shocking – but it is almost always true. You will benefit by discussing things first, getting buy-in to the plan, and then documenting the agreement to that plan. With the exception of an involuntary termination of employment, I can’t think of any situation that would not benefit from talking before writing. Practice some TFWS and see if you don’t agree.

Roger Dusing, PhD, is a Senior Consultant and the Higher Education Practice Leader at OMNI. He previously served as Chief Human Resource Officer at Park University for eleven years. With over 40 years of HR experience, including 30 years in C-suite level roles, he looks forward to reflecting his passion for higher education in his work to bring affordable, high-quality HR services to small- to medium-sized colleges and universities. 

Roger holds a PhD in Business Management, with a concentration in Human Resources from Northcentral University, a Master of Science in Administration from Central Michigan University, and a BS in Industrial Engineering from Bradley University. He also authored the book “I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable About the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another.”