Developing a sound records management policy—your first steps

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An effective records management policy provides the foundation for your records management program by documenting processes for organizing, retaining and accessing records, outlining key roles and responsibilities, and helping your organization meet regulatory mandates. Simply put, this policy should help you get the most out of your RM program and meet compliance requirements. So how do you develop the right policy for your organization?

While the answer can partly depend on your organization’s governance culture, risk exposures, and communication standards, there are best practices that can be applied to any business context. We’ve used these best practices to develop tips for creating the right RM policies for your program.

1. Understand the needs of your stakeholders

Depending on the structure of your organization, possible stakeholder groups might include legal services, facilities, and IT, as well as the core operational groups who use recorded information to meet your organization’s primary mandate.

It’s also important to meet with groups that can provide insights into the day-to-day realities of developing and enforcing a policy, such as human resources, internal audit, communications, and if your organization has one, the policy unit.

Such consultations help records management professionals develop policies that respond to business needs and practical challenges. Stakeholder consultations also provide help in “selling” the policy come implementation time.

2. Identify roles and responsibilities

Managers and employees will approach a new policy with the question, “What do I have to do?” The effectiveness of your RM policy depends on its ability to tackle this question up front. The policy should clearly distinguish roles and responsibilities for the RM program throughout development, implementation and maintenance.

Once these individuals have been established in their respective roles, the next step is to outline their specific responsibilities as clearly as possible. You should be able to answer these questions:

  • Will the role include any oversight responsibilities or signing authority for processes, such as records disposal?
  • Which other stakeholders will people in the role need to engage?
  • What is the scope of the employee’s responsibility for the records themselves—all records in an organization unit, or just those the person creates, retains and uses?

3. Use the right language

An effective policy is strong and declarative enough to mandate action across the entire organization, but it should not be so dictatorial and inflexible as to alienate readers and risk impeding their daily business activities.

For example, if a policy states that an employee “must” apply information security safeguards, then that statement is a legally binding requirement, exposing the organization to potentially serious sanctions for non-compliance. In contrast, the word “should” reads as a recommendation rather than a direct requirement, while words like “can” and “may” suggest that the described actions are completely optional, with no clear mandate to act one way or the other.

Which approach is best will depend heavily on the context of the action and the different legal, operational and other requirements that apply to it.

4. Get employee buy-in by focusing on value

The key to getting buy-in is to show a clear and comprehensive value proposition. In other words, the policies should address questions such as why are we doing all these things? What benefits do we hope to achieve? What risks are we trying to avoid or mitigate? There are at least four possible areas to look at when answering these questions:

  • Legal compliance
  • Industry standards
  • Related policy directions
  • Business benefits

By focusing on how records management will help with your business process and goals, you’ll be in a better position to get the support you need.

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