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Managing the Modern Workplace
V&E International Labor & Employment Resources

Know the Facts Before Making a Decision

I recently coached a law student working at Vinson & Elkins for the summer that when she writes a legal memorandum, she should always start with a statement of the facts of the matter as she knows them. The reason for doing this is that if she makes a conclusion on the facts, but does not tell the reader what she believes the facts to be, there could be a misunderstanding. Sometimes associates are not provided all of the facts needed for their memorandum. We will catch that if the associate repeats back the facts in their memorandum. This is also good advice for a young lawyer when they first start writing opinions for clients, because clients may forget some important facts.

It’s a principle that applies equally to managers in the workplace. When a decision needs to be made that will impact the workforce, it is important that everyone involved in that decision knows the facts and works from the same set of facts. A hypothetical HR manager, told by an operations manager that an employee refused to do a job, despite being told repeatedly to do so, may think the employee needs to be disciplined or even terminated. However, if that operations manager adds that the employee refused to do the job because he thought it was dangerous, the HR manager has a very different issue to address.  

It’s true that getting all the facts, including from those involved in making the decision, takes more time and may delay a decision. When it comes to managing a workplace however, it is time well spent. A stitch in time saves nine. I have seen mistakes made because employers were in a big hurry and made a decision without all the facts. Also, I have seen mistakes when some of the people in the room knew all the facts and assumed the others did.  Just like this law student, it is important for HR managers to know that repeating the known facts to those involved in the decision — even multiple times — is a worthy exercise. Sometimes new facts will be added or what everyone thought the facts to be will be corrected based upon the knowledge of those in the room. Without consensus on the facts, it can be very difficult for advisors and decision makers to give advice and make a decision. If the company needs more information, better to get it now than when the company is responding to a government agency or a lawsuit.

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Author

Thomas H. Wilson

Thomas H. Wilson Partner