How are you keeping score in records?

This is more of an informal survey than a blog post. I’m really interested in what you think. If you comment, I’ll add your answers to the end of this post.

How do you keep score?

How do you know when you’re winning?

What’s the metric that lets you go home at the end of a week/month/year knowing you’ve done well?

I’m going to update this page with everyone’s comments. I think it’s an important issue for all of us.

The one critical skill that will make or break your Records Program.

The critical skill that makes or breaks every records program is the ability to get managers to manage the records performance of their direct reports.

When frontline managers include records in their management practice, frontline workers keep records.

When middle managers manage frontline managers on the records performance of their team, frontline managers teams keep records.

When senior executives manage middle managers on the records performance of their frontline teams, the whole organisation underneath them keep records.

This makes the ability to persuade senior executives a critical skill. that they need to take records seriously.

In Government in particular, single managers can derail whole records programs – and the same goes for digital initiatives. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve seen this in action.

I’ve seen one side of an organisation move to electronic records and another side stay on paper – because one senior executive liked their EA to print documents for them, and liked signing ceremonies on Friday mornings.

I’ve also seen the records performance of a team completely change (in both directions), because of a change of manager.

While the ability to persuade on a 1:1 basis at low levels of an organisation can have an impact, it’s only a matter of time before that 1 runs into a deadline set by their manager and doesn’t keep a record because the manager doesn’t care about the record.

There are many approaches to this problem – but the most important thing is that we see it as a critical problem for records to solve.

The other option is to say “it’s not my job to persuade” – which is partly true, and partly why records is a mess in many organisations. Most people I’ve found with this attitude didn’t get there because they don’t care, they got there because they care deeply and tried and failed many, many times. 

All of this leaves me with two questions:

  1. What’s your general approach to persuading management?
  2. How have you found inspiration when you’ve become that person who failed to persuade?

How to explain to people in your business that isn’t really very good at the kind of search they want.

I’m regularly told that people want the google experience at work.

I know what they mean.

They mean “we want to find what we want”.

But Google isn’t actually very good at this when what you want is a specific thing.

Where Google excels is search problems where we can define the search problem as:

  1. Show me something popular.
  2. Show me some information about a thing, I don’t really care where it comes from – just that it’s popular.
  3. Show me some information about a thing, I don’t really care if it’s trustworthy or not, just that lots of people link to it.
  4. Show me some information, I don’t care whether or not it’s findable in a week or a month.

Google solves the problem of finding what’s popular, now.

Business search problems though, are almost always about what’s unpopular, specific and authoritative.

And Google isn’t very good at those.

For what it’s worth, Google recognises that the search it provides isn’t the right search for every situation, it’s why we have Google Scholar.

Keeping our eye on the prize to make sure the Records profession survives

The largest opportunity of “born-digital” records, is to make the business value of records “very soon, to me”.

Records are more valuable when they’re more useful.

When they’re critical on a day to day basis, they get executive support, investment and care.

Process workers treat them with reverence, and invest time in them.

They are valued.

Business value of records has always been difficult. 

The value of keeping records has often been “just in case” it “might be valuable” to “someone”

The prize though, is now, and has always been “very soon, to me.”

When we take our eye off this, organisations invent whole other professions to do it. 

Not making the value of our records “very soon, to me” is an existential threat to the Records Management profession.

What will be sad about this, is that there’s an up-swing in the recognition of the value of good records going on right now.

For the last three years, I’ve had a Google alert on a couple of topics around Record Keeping and Management.

What has been really surprising is that the academic papers coming through aren’t papers about records.

This excerpt is from a paper titled “Strategies for Quality Milk Production”

v) Proper record management and goals for udder health status 

Proper record keeping is the essence of proper monitoring. Periodic review of the udder health management programme helps in timely corrective interventions. Establishment of realistic periodic targets for various udder health parameters is the final step of a complete udder health management program. The goals should be realistic.

This is about records that have value “very soon, to me”.

That’s the prize.

Either we will capture it, or another profession will.

The only way to win at digital records.

Is to control record creation.

If we’re not controlling record creation, we can’t control quality.

In practical terms, not having control of creation means records:

  1. Are likely to be in places we don’t know about or can’t control.
  2. Might not have sufficient metadata for us to judge their evidentiality.

To me, these are core problems that we’re all dealing with in records, I think it’s because we don’t have enough control over creation.

How to get a records system into your agency that gets used.

Simple – remove yourself and anyone else from Records from the buying process.

For decades, Records systems have been purchased based on their ability to meet the needs of Records.

And for decades, records has struggled with getting ordinary business users to adopt the systems and policies.

Of course we have. We’ve been buying systems for us.

So what happens after purchase of the system we’ve bought for us?

Our life with the system is easy.

Business users lives with the systems are hard.

So we adopt the system.

And they don’t.

The questions records answers.

Records has to answer two questions:

  1. When do our obligations end?
  2. What value can the past offer us tomorrow? 

To do records adequately, we have to have a plan to record our obligations until they are no longer our obligations.

To do records well, we have to have a strategy for how the past can have value in the future.

But what does great look like?

The three places records can be, and the change we should be exploiting.

The three places are:

  1. Compliant places.
  2. Controlled places.
  3. Uncontrolled places.

Obviously, if we can, we want everything in bucket one.

The problem is that there’s a drop off in capture as we move up the list. 

Compliant systems are more difficult to use. We can rely on integration and culture to overcome this – but we have to acknowledge that the problem is there.

Unfortunately, compliant systems haven’t got much easier to user in the last ten years. 

What has improved dramatically, are controlled systems. Vendors like Microsoft, Dropbox, Box and others have actually made it easier to use their products than to use uncontrolled spaces.

We should be exploiting that, because it’s an improvement in the direction that we want to go in.

Should we be abandoning records standards and systems to get better results in records?

What is the highest impact factor in our ability to manage records?

It has to be actually having the record – however poorly organised, and in however poor a state. 

From there, we can work on record quality – but the capture has to come first. Otherwise we’ve nothing to manage.

So why are we so focused on records standards and systems?

We use records systems because they implement the standards, and other systems just can’t. We do this despite the fact that we know records systems are a major barrier to actually getting adoption of records. While there are other factors, we know records systems are a barrier because we have network fileshares with amazing adoption rates.

I regularly talk to records teams who will tell me that they have a catch rate of 10 to 20% in their compliant records system.

These aren’t a rarity.

This is normal.

I also have to note that these people are well qualified, knowledgeable, experienced, expert practitioners.

And they’re failing to get people to use the records systems.

Yet every one of them spends inordinate amounts of time focused on ensuring that they have a compliant system, because a non-compliant system is unacceptable, even if 80% of the organisation don’t use it.

This could all actually still work.

We all know that records is cultural, and culture comes from the top.

If records was taken seriously by the executives who sign the compliance statement every year, and they managed it as the records acts and standards expect, this could all actually work. 

But in general, that’s just not the case.

So why do we continue with standards and systems that only serve the organisational purpose of ticking a compliance box? A compliance box that isn’t even taken very seriously? 

Why aren’t we just helping our colleagues organise their information for convenience (AKA productivity), and making sure they do it somewhere we can stop them deleting things?

One of the things I wonder, is if this is where records has gone wrong – if it’s where I’ve gone wrong.

I’ve always typically started from the point of view that we should be figuring out ways to get users to put things in the compliant system.

I wonder though, if what we should be striving for, is something like “eventual compliance.”

A process of starting from the point of view that we should help groups of users organise their information for convenience – with just a little structure.

I don’t think that this would actually be much of a process change.

We just make sure information isn’t deleted, and we sell the benefits of small scale centralisation and organisation for convenience of small groups of users aligned around a function or activity.

Then we can work on quality – and eventually capture in a compliant system. Because we all know that effective records is about 95% cultural.

And when a compliance regime appears that senior executives take seriously, we will have large groups of users who appreciate the work that we’ve done, and will probably bend to it.

What I’m really interested to understand, is who has taken this approach, how did you get it across the line with your executive, and what results have you had?

Final note – Yes, I know about manage in place approaches and the vendors with tools in the space. What I’m talking about is far more lightweight but I am interested to understand who has had good results with these tools. I know of 5 who have bought the technology, and none who have had good results with it (yet).