Over many years of developing records retention schedules, I have had many discussions with executives in regards to their reluctance to approve them, dealing with arguments that they were preoccupied with other work; retention scheduling was not important or had little value. I have gone through 45 minute conversations with all but a final argument being resolved. That final argument was that many executives have never had to deal with records retention schedules previously. I feel that this is the major impediment in carrying out our work.
I have found it to be very interesting. Business leaders who routinely made million, and billion, dollar decisions on acquiring or divesting subsidiaries became very nervous when they are asked to approve the retention periods for records under their control. Hopefully, things are improving, but records management was not taught in MBA courses and many of these individuals moved up the ranks within their organizations without ever having to address records management.
As we manage the information assets of our organizations, we need to bring an analytical approach to the understanding of the records and we provide, what I call, a management control structure, as an aid to operating executives and managers. For the records and information assets of the organization, we have the classification scheme and its accompanying retention schedule.
For many years, I have recognized managing the information assets of the organization was no different than managing the human resources of the organization and the capital assets of the business.
If you have worked in large organizations for a long period of time, you can remember that every once and a while there would be an initiative by the Personnel department to update the job descriptions – boy, wasn’t that fun!
As managers, we were asked what the responsibilities of those positions that reported to us were. What were the tasks performed by these roles and, even, what percentage of time was spent by the individuals performing those tasks. Here, we were forced to think analytically about those jobs that were under our supervision. It was recognized as critical that our organization documents the responsibilities and tasks to be carried out by the different positions held in the organization.
In the very same way, we need to identify the different categories of records (records series) created and received within the organization and document the different values that these records have. It is important to have an accurate title for the records series. This is similar to having an approved job title or an approved account name in the chart of accounts. I regularly ask what information can be found in the different records series and, from this, what were the legal, administrative, fiscal and historical values of the records. I seek the managers’ work experience to help answer these questions. Yes, forcing managers to think analytically about their records can be just as painful as having them update the job descriptions.
The good news is that retention schedules, just like organization charts, can remain in the background – my copy of the organization chart collected dust on a shelf until those rare occasions when I needed it. I would wipe it off and make sure I had the latest revision. The records management professionals will build the approved retention formulas into an ERM solution and the computer system then does all the work. We don’t want to tell the computer when the records are eligible for destruction, we want it to tell us.
For management, the second good thing is that they do not have to deal with all of the different records series identified across the whole organization – just as they don’t have to deal with all job positions identified across the organization. They simply deal with those records that are found under their own area of responsibility. ERM systems can be configured so that when they, are their staff, need to classify their records, only those record categories associated with their role or function will be displayed.
Tell us about the support you have received from management in regards to approving your retention schedules.
Tell us about some obstacles that you may have faced.
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