Rating Records Management Program Maturity

A records and information management (“RIM”) program that is effective and efficient allows you to do the following:

  • Create only the records needed to satisfy legal, fiscal, administrative, and operational requirements.
  • Retain essential records and destroy obsolete records.
  • Store records safely and securely in a cost-effective manner.
  • Retrieve information quickly through efficient access and retrieval systems.
  • Use the right information technology for the right reasons.
  • Promote and support the use of archival records as a community resource.
  • Recognize through policy and procedures that records management is everyone’s job.

If your organization is struggling in any of these areas, tools like the Records Management Maturity Model (“RM3”) can be helpful.

The RM3 is adapted from the National Archives of Canada’s Information Management Model and includes six areas for evaluation—organizational context, organizational capabilities, management of records and information management, compliance and quality, records life cycle, and user perspective.

A five-point scale in RM3, ranging from one (undeveloped RIM program or in the beginning stages) to five (industry best practices program), allows organizations to see how they compare to industry best practices.

The criteria for each element are summarized below:

  1. Organizational context. This includes an organization’s capacity to support, sustain, and strengthen its records management capabilities. It also includes a review of the organization’s culture, change management capability, and impact of the external environment on its RIM practices.
  2. Organizational capabilities. Included here is an organization’s capacity to develop its people, processes and technology resources for a sound RIM program. It also includes an evaluation of the organization’s availability of internal specialists to manage the program. In addition to RIM tools and their enabling technologies, other areas reviewed include project management capabilities and relationship management in support of RIM.
  3. Management of records and information. An organization’s capacity to effectively manage activities in support of records management as it relates to the effective delivery of programs and services is the theme of this element. Included is an evaluation of leadership and executive awareness, quality of strategic plans, principles, policies and standards, roles and responsibilities, program integration, mechanisms for risk management, and the performance management framework for RIM.
  4. Compliance and quality. High maturity in this area means that the organization has controls in place to ensure that its records holdings are not compromised. This includes the extent to which the organization’s processes ensure records are authentic, reliable, usable, and have integrity (i.e., records quality), information security, privacy, business continuity, and compliance.
  5. Records life cycle. Ensuring that the organization has capacity to support each phase of the records life cycle is part of this element. This includes incorporating records life cycle requirements in policies, programs, services and systems, and assessing records collections, their sharing and re-use. The organization of records for optimized retrieval as well as maintenance and preservation of records for long-term usability, and records disposition plans are also included here.
  6. User perspective. People are an important aspect of any program. The organization must have the capacity to meet the information needs of all users. This element includes an evaluation of user awareness, user training and support, and user satisfaction.

While the above elements and criteria are highly effective for evaluating RIM programs, they can also be used for other areas. But before embarking on any program evaluation, discern whether the program is required in the first place.

Purge Parties are a Team Sport

For organizations focused on improving their productivity, there’s nothing like a purge party to get staff motivated. Not only do purge parties help staff manage their work space, but purge parties are especially useful for clearing outdated and useless office records.

By “purging” all unnecessary items, including records, from individual and shared workspaces, more space is acquired and essential items are kept and categorized for efficient retrieval.

The advantages to purge parties include the following:

  • Increased staff productivity by decreasing the search and retrieval time for items (i.e., fewer items to search means faster search times).
  • Elimination of duplicated records.
  • Minimized legal exposure—court cases demonstrate that records retained longer than needed typically hurt the organization.
  • Reduced storage costs both onsite and offsite.
  • More floor space is acquired in the office.

To conduct a purge party, convene an all-day staff meeting (or one-half-day, depending on the size of your office) and notify staff that there will be a purge party. Advise staff to wear comfortable clothing for the meeting. Let them know that donuts and coffee will be provided (it is a party, after all!).

At the meeting, go over the rules of the purge party and answer questions. This should take no more than 30 minutes. After this, with supplies on hand (e.g., boxes, masking tape, markers, packing tape, recycling boxes, etc.), each staff returns to their desk and starts purging.

Start purging where most documents land—on your desk! To help you start purging, consider the following:

  • If you are left-handed, locate items you need to reach regularly on your right (e.g., your telephone) and vice versa. Why? If you’re right-handed, you pick up the phone with your left hand, leaving your right hand free to take notes.
  • Which items do you use every day? Keep them on your desk.
  • Which items do you use at least once a week? Keep them in your desk drawer(s).
  • Which items do you use no more than once a month? Keep them in your filing cabinet (if records) or your book case (if books) or in a storage cabinet (other items).
  • Which items do you never/rarely use? Keep them in an archive or storage area as designated by your office or discard if the item has no value. Most “never/rarely use” items are discard items.

Once you’ve organized your desk, here are some “de-cluttering” guidelines to ensure you get maximum value from the purge.

  • Work clockwise around the room.
  • Start clean-up of visible surfaces first.
  • Divide your work into four quadrants (“piles”)—work on one quadrant at a time—first finish one pile before moving to the next one.

The best person to purge an office is the owner of the office. They are the most knowledgeable about what records, books, and other items are necessary for efficient workflow.

After a purge party of the physical office space, companies realize about 40% more space—space freed up when records, books, and other knickknacks are sorted or discarded.

Most people don’t realize how freeing a purge party can be for individuals and organizations. It is well worth the day to engage your employees in this team sport to not only increase morale, but efficiency and productivity going forward.

A-Z Filing is Not a Best Practice

I was surprised and amused recently to learn that a well-known productivity guru is a proponent of alphabetical filing systems for individuals – i.e., an “A-Z” arrangement for reference materials. In addition, he advocates having on hand “lots of fresh folders” and a rule of thumb to reorder folders when the number on hand drops below one hundred.

My advice is that if you really have so much filing, it’s time to stop and evaluate what you’re keeping and why. Having fresh file folders on hand to file anything that looks interesting is just ridiculous, not to mention a waste of time and resources. And if you are doing this, when was the last time you looked at that article you saved on gardening?  And do you even remember where you filed it? G for gardening? P for pruning? F for fertilizer?

Paper filing is still necessary in many offices, but the push is toward electronic filing, and rightly so, since there is less waste. Regardless if you’re using paper or electronic or both, either method should follow the same principles. That is, filing should be based on a classification system that has less than 25 root folders with sub-folders relating to the function and subject of the root.

Let’s take, for example, administrative files. Regardless of your business, your office has administrative files. These files fall under the broad categories (roots) of:

  • Administration
  • Equipment 
  • Facilities
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Information Technology.

Simply stated, these six root directories cover ALL of your administrative filing.

Under each of these categories, you will have a few or several main (primary) categories or subjects of records. And under this, you may have many cases of each subject. Look at employee files, for instance. Whether paper or electronic, employee files are cases of the subject “employee files” that belongs under the main category “human resources.” If you’re filing employee files electronically, your electronic directory might look like this:

  • Human resources
    •                 Employee files
        •                                 Clark, John
        •                                 Smith, Susan

Under “Clark, John,” for instance, file all documentation relating to John Clark, regardless if they’re Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, scanned images, or some other file format. This way, everything to do with John Clark is contained in his “employee file” under the broad category of human resources. Having all documents together like this makes it easy to apply retention schedules.

If you do not contain your files in a hierarchical system, there’s a strong probability that your document(s) might end up in an incorrect folder. And if it’s in an incorrect folder (because the overall structure is incorrect), what happens? You end up creating a new folder, one that “you know” you will remember and you file there, but no one else might think to look there. What you’ve just done is duplicated filing and the original folder can no longer be relied upon to contain all documentation. Not only that, you’ve now used more space than necessary to create the new folder (whether electronic or paper).

The bottom line is that filing and managing records is not something that should be taken lightly, since if it’s done incorrectly, repercussions can go beyond just a bad filing system and wasted time and resources. At the very least, integrity of files is lost leaving the system to be unreliable, unusable, unwieldy, out of control, and at the end of the day, a useless waste of space, money, and time.

Next time you plan to file something, whether paper or electronic; ask yourself if the system is actually working for you and the organization. If it’s not, it may be time to call an expert.


Involuntary Systems are the Key to Success

Have you ever thought about how many times your heart beats in a second, minute, day, or hour? Very few of us ever think about how our body functions, yet there it is–doing an amazing job of balancing all of our internal systems to keep us alive.

A parallel can be made between our involuntary body systems and “involuntary” systems of organization that help us achieve success. Imagine having to tell your heart each time blood needs to pump or to tell your lungs when it’s time to breathe. This would be a very inefficient way of managing our body, not to mention it would be an all-consuming exercise leaving us with no time to do anything else. Likewise with office or personal organization systems, if they are not “second nature” or “involuntary” for us, we continue to struggle with disorganization, stress, procrastination, overwhelm, and other symptoms that hinder our productivity.

An organized person knows (almost intuitively) their priorities including where to find information and how to manage their time. Each time they need to work on a priority item, they know immediately how to go about it. They do not create a new system(s) for prioritizing or getting organized. They have created efficient workflow systems, so they need very little time to maintain or think about them. Much like the involuntary heart beats.

Think about a records management system that includes filing cabinets stuffed with file folders and documents. The file folders are labeled, but there is no consistency in labeling or filing. Do you think this system is easy to use? No, it is not. And because it is not easy to use, each time you need to file something, you need to think about how and where you will file your documents. This takes up your time and energy and creates stress. An intuitively organized filing system, on the other hand, enables you to file “automatically” and keep work flowing seamlessly.

Other examples include the manner in which invoices are expedited for payment or the way in which patients are triaged at medical clinics. Once the workflow process is set up and procedures learned for each process, you no longer need to waste time thinking about how to do something. In effect, your process and procedures have enabled you to devise your own automatic system for the way you work. The work becomes second nature. The more automatic the flow, the more organized the system.

A nice side effect of automatic processes and systems is that they enable us to be more creative. This is because we do not have to think about the process or system–we just do our work; like our heart beating in the background, our process and systems are also in silent mode. This enables our minds the freedom to explore new opportunities, giving us the ability to be even more productive.

Next time you work on a task, ask yourself if you need to rely on procedures each time or has the task become automatic. If you need to spend time thinking about how to approach the same task each time, then ask how you can make your thinking about the work more automatic. You owe it to yourself to make your tasks as automatic as possible, so that thinking about the systems and processes doesn’t detract from your ability to use them.


Gaining Support for Records Management Programs

Mary explains that the way to gain support for a records management program is to actively engage management and staff so that they can experience the benefits, not just hear the words. By appealing to emotions, you will be on the path to obtaining “buy-in” for your records management program.

This podcast is also available as an article: Gaining Support for Records Management Programs


Future Forward with Records Management

Four steps are discussed to help implement a “future forward” records management program. They are management support, diagnosis, action plan, and implementation. Mary also suggests that organizations can save money by converting from paper to electronic storage of their documents.

Preservation of Electronic Records

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to preservation of electronic records. Both downfalls and benefits of different technology (or lack of) are discussed, with an emphasis on migrating to new systems, when necessary, and considering and gradually acting on long-term preservation of records in electronic form.

ROI of a Records Management Program

Mary quantifies the importance of records management programs. She offers an example, along with an equation, so that you, too, can figure out just how much money you can add to your bottom line through implementing best practices in records management.

Strategies That Reduce Complexity

Mary helps to break down the issue of complexity in the workplace and offers ways to make processes easier.  The two steps she discusses are standardization and optimization.