The two places records management programs are most likely to fail

The two places are:

  1. Program Governance
  2. Frontline value

Program governance is a failure to have records management performance managed by line managers throughout the organisation. It’s really a failure to prove value at the executive level, and to translate that value into a framework that executives can act on.

Frontline value is a failure to establish enough “very soon, to me” type value to frontline workers.

Records managers don’t have enough power in an organisation to get people to keep records well, and they are never going to. This means that the first order of business for a records management program needs to be securing executive support.

Every records program needs the whole organisation to commit to implementing the program. Without someone who can exercise authority at the whole organisation level, the best you can have is silos of excellence – and if you can’t get senior executive support, that’s what you should aim for. Whatever piece of the organisation is underneath the most senior manager who will commit to managing their staff on records outcomes is where your effort will be most highly rewarded.

The important thing to focus on with program governance is ensuring that sanctions for non-performance are implemented with certainty. Recidivism theory tells us that certainty of punishment for a transgression has the highest correlation with non-recidivism. This means that whatever reporting mechanism you design, it needs to deliver simple, actionable information to managers so that they can act with both certainty and minimum effort.

If you get program governance right, frontline value is less important. As much as it sticks in my throat when I say that, it’s true. There are some records programs that seem to go out of their way to make things hard for frontliners, and deliver no value that a frontliner will ever see in their work – but are effective (at least in the short term) because of good program governance.

That said, frontline value is (to me) the most important component of long term success for records – both at the program level, and the industry level. Programs that fail on frontline value often don’t get to the point where they are self sustaining. They require larger amounts of continued management pressure, and sooner or later, management get tired, and move on to other things.

The simple truth is that frontliners must value the records that we ask them to keep. The value must be tangible and real, and they must have a feeling that value will be provided “very soon, to me.”

Programs that achieve this become self-policing.

Active governance becomes assurance and eventually just monitoring.

What I think is most important to realise, is that none of the issues above are technical issues, and while technical issues are important, programs will not fail or succeed purely because of them.

This should be a caution point for every records manager in their choice of daily issues to focus on. Is the next thing in your to do list a technical issue? Or an issue of executive of frontline value that’s going to really impact your chance of success of failure?

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