Evolving the Records Management Culture: From Ad Hoc to Adherence Implementing an Enterprise-Wide Records Management Program Requires Executive-Level Support, Communication, Training, Incentives, and an Action Plan That Will Motivate Employees to Give Up Their Ad Hoc Methods and Adhere to Program Policies and Procedures

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Prior to implementing a records management program, an organization is dependent on its staff members to manage records through ad hoc and person-dependent methods. They may be using technologies that are not designed to accommodate and enforce retention schedules, and they may be maintaining records in systems that suit their various departmental needs but not the organization's requirements for enterprise-wide records retrieval and use. In today's business environment, with its prevalence of electronic documents and e-mail messages, this culture puts organizations at risk for their practices surrounding records retention and regulatory compliance and results in lost productivity and extra costs for records storage and maintenance.

Even after developing new records management program policies, procedures, and retention rules, an organization's records management culture will need to evolve to close the gap caused by embedded personal work habits and department silos if it is to have a successful enterprise-wide records management program. Eliminating this gap is accomplished by creating understanding and awareness among all staff members, training, and implementing enabling technologies so employees will be personally motivated to undertake new practices in compliance with the new policy and procedures.

Policy Development

Evolving the records management culture starts with policy development. A policy is a statement of standards and guidelines necessary for the organization to perform its mandated functions. Policies guide the organization's decisions and actions. As records management is an enterprise-wide business process that spans all departments, the policy must be developed at the highest level of the organization (i.e., approved by the governing committee or group).

The records management policy must assign accountabilities to the appropriate level of staff. The policy, therefore, should

* State the purpose of the records management policy

* Define key terms

* State what staff positions are responsible for, including, for example:

--The integrity of records at the creation phase

--The comprehensiveness of case files

--Intellectual and physical records maintenance controls

--Authorizing records destruction (at a minimum, in the department and within the central records office)

--Suspension, when needed, of scheduled records destruction

--Designating of the records custodians within a department

--Accountability for maintaining records series (reference to the classification and retention schedule)

A policy crafted to address records management accountabilities will eliminate a situation in which an employee can claim that he or she is unaware of his or her responsibilities or argue that "records management does not apply to my position" Because all employees create, maintain, and use electronic and paper-based records, the policy does apply to each employee. The policy-driven accountabilities will make it crystal dear who is responsible for each element of the records management business process.

Procedures and Their Function in Records Culture

The details of how to make the policy operational are typically contained in the records management procedures. Procedures explain how to implement the records management policy and define business process responsibilities, terminology, processes, and applicable database or technology usage.

Explicit, concise procedures are the primary reference tool for staff members who work with the records. The objective in crafting procedures is to eliminate the possibility of employees claiming that they don't perform records management functions because the procedures are confusing or not accessible. Procedures should make it easy for custodians and other staff to perform their roles. …