Records Management: Retention Schedules Take a Back Seat

3 minute read
Mimi Dionne avatar

The records retention schedule’s daily use is in decline. 

I don’t mean to say that your organization shouldn’t have one -- far from it. Every organization should have a records retention schedule safely tucked away in the arms (arsenal?) of the Records and Information Management, Legal and Technology departments. However, Typical End User (TEU) doesn’t want it and won’t use it.

So, Records Manager, how will you respond? What’s in your wallet?

Hard Copy Records Management

For hard copy records management (usually remembered during the 4th and 1st quarters), a straightforward shopping list of records types and their corresponding retention periods is simple and easy to post on the intranet.

Direct the new TEUs to the link off of the Records department’s main page during the onboarding process (be gentle; they’re not going to remember it later) or to your colleagues during those “Help!” calls always placed to you at 4:55 pm.

Electronic Records Management Minus the Retention Schedule

Electronic records management is trickier. The trifecta of Records and Information Management professionals can always agree to match rules behind e-Records publishing platforms, but what if TEU involvement is required? How best do you encourage TEUs to make retention decisions without reliance on the records retention schedule only?

Let’s play a game. You, Records and Information Management professional, will create a guideline that outlines how your organization’s content becomes a record. First, a few rules:

You can’t:

  • defer to the records retention schedule
  • discuss legal/regulations/standards
  • use records jargon
  • rely on the old standby, “but it’s instinctual!”

You can:

  • use specific business examples
  • use company jargon
  • discuss the types of documentation in your company
  • mention scope and impact

So, how do you create your deliverable? 

Learning Opportunities

First, leave the Records and Information Manager role behind. Next, disassociate yourself from the traditional definition of a record -- weighed against the pace of the typical work day, TEU doesn’t really have time to care in that context. Remember: everyone attended the mandatory Records training and promptly forgot it. You’re creating a new (records-related) Third Place.

Draw on haunting, inspirational sources like this one. This 2012 Motion Graphics Finalist in the Vimeo Awards was created beautifully by Adam Gault, Stefanie Augustine, Chris Villepigue, Carlo Vega and read by Mitch Rapoport. Sure, it’s Speech 101, but remind yourself:

  • you’re creating a memorable, but 101 document;
  • you’re providing a directive that will encourage TEUs to decide what content becomes a record in less than 5 seconds; and
  • most importantly, you’re reminding TEUs of “here” -- this organization’s records, this preservation activity, this legacy.

The Gettysburg Address is perfectly suited for such inspiration and this video is deceptively simple. Simple is elegant.

Meanwhile, don’t forget your instruction from Edward Tufte (create depth) and Nancy Duarte (resonate with meaning).

What are the results of this game of logic? Three to five typical business content categories that should in no way map back to functional records series. These categories are different. It’s ok to present the dotted line model -- after all, we’re discussing a change of information state -- but you should leave that behind with the definition of a record if you can. The categories must be universal because they’re relevant to everyone’s responsibilities. At best, TEUs will remember one in the declaration moment. But one category is all that’s needed, yes? 

Editor's Note: Mimi knows records management. To read more of her thoughts, try Fuzzy Logic for Retention Management: Millington, Funge and Games

About the author

Mimi Dionne

Mimi Dionne is a records and information management project manager and Consultant/Owner of Mimi Dionne Consulting. She is a Certified Records Manager, a Certified Archivist, a Certified Document Imaging Architect, a Certified Information Professional, and a Project Management Professional.

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