Does your classification scheme describe or prescribe?

One of the things that I’ve found about a good records classification scheme is that it is one that people can see their job in.

When people can’t see their job in a classification, they will create something that matches their job – and use that.

There’s a careful balance we need to maintain when creating classifications – which is that we need to describe how people organise their work.

When we fail at this, we’re falling into the same trap as many business process management projects by describing some theoretical situation.

In effect, we’re telling people how to think about their job – prescribing it.

The effect is the same in business process management and records – people work around the system.

While some will be comfortable with the lumping or splitting decisions that we’ve forced them to make, others will respond to the uncertainty by dealing with it in a way that is certain – which means putting the records somewhere that makes sense to them.

It’s simple to say, but very subtle. Great classification schemes describe, for the others, there’s a point at which they flip over to being prescriptive – and that’s where the danger is.

Sometimes, we will have to prescribe how people keep records and think about their job for the simple reason that it’s the best piece of risk management we can do. When we do this though, we need to recognise that we’re going to have to continually apply pressure on people to do it the way we want it to, or they’ll go back to doing it the way that makes sense – somewhere else.

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