Why we need to define records again (yes really, hear me out – it’s a coherent argument, I promise)

I’m going to say up front that it doesn’t matter what definition you use.

Just that you use one.


  1. “Records is just the paper.”
  2. “Email aren’t records.”
  3. “Post it notes aren’t records.”
  4. “That’s not a record, it’s a database.”

These are all idiotic blanket statements made by records illiterate people who can influence your executives.

They are also idiotic blanket statements made by records illiterate people who use them as rules to decide whether they will keep a record.

When we let other people decide what records is, we end up with whatever illiterate thing people decide to give us.

A definition of records in our organisation is something that we should all be fighting for.

It’s foundational.

It’s easy.

It lets us decide what records is.

It tells the organisation what records are.

It’s a standard that we can hold them to.

There’s also a heavy responsibility.

A simplistic definition creates ambiguity, an overly complicated one creates a barrier.

The underlying point remains though – as long as we let non-records people decide what records is about, we’ll keep getting stuffed into the basement to deal with whatever garbage they want us to deal with.

If we fight for the definition we need in our organisation, define its value and prove that it has an impact on performance, we might just get the records we want.

How to set records strategy.

I think it starts with three questions –

  1. Where is the organisation under performing because it does not have efficient access to reliable business evidence?
  2. Where is the organisation accumulating an excess of business risk that we can mitigate through better business evidence?
  3. Which strategic priorities of the executive team are going to fail without a strategy for business evidence?

I think that once you’ve answered those questions, you have everything you need to work on.

The first thing a records team should invest in

Is a service management platform.

The next thing the team should do is refuse to accept any work that isn’t directed via the service management platform.

The reason is simple – most records teams struggle to justify their value.

The simplest relationship in value management is “cost” to “how much stuff you do.””

If you can’t measure it, you have no basis for telling the organisation how much work you’re doing for them – and how much value they’re getting from you.

As the old saying goes, “if you can’t measure it” you can’t tell people what they’re paying you for.

If you can’t tell people what they’re paying you and your team for, they’re never going to give you more money to get more done.