How to create an effective records retention program – Part Two

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In last week’s blog post, we imagined what would happen if the primary measure of RIM performance was the quantity of documents defensibly disposed of in a given year.

As we pointed out, this would put a lot of pressure on records managers to polish up their records retention schedules. Without an up-to-date and accurate retention schedule, records would either be kept around too long, or they would end up being destroyed prematurely.

However, a retention schedule is only one component of an effective records retention program. Without the proper processes and oversight in place, your retention schedule will end up as nothing more than a dusty volume taking up space on a shelf.

Anatomy of an effective records retention program

Alongside the retention schedule itself, the following items are essential for an effective records retention program.

  • Documentation guidelines: To defend the final destruction of documents, it is important to record what happens at key points in their lifecycle. Unless staff are provided with guidelines on how to do so, the entire process may not be documented in a way that stands up to the scrutiny of internal and external bodies.
  • Document storage guidelines: It is also important to decide where and how documents will be stored at various points in their lifecycle. By providing guidelines, it reduces the risk of inconsistent storage practices that can hamper retention efforts.
  • Cataloging and location tracking: Organizations should establish a procedure for cataloging and inventorying stored records. This helps ensure that documents are able to be retrieved when it is time for disposition.
  • Records destruction policies and procedures: Clear policies and procedures for destruction are essential to maintaining the integrity of a retention program. For example, you may specify that confidential information should always be shredded, and only by an approved, NAID-compliant vendor. Another example is the requirement that staff review all files before destruction to ensure that there are no outstanding reasons for retaining any file.
  • Documenting the destruction: The organization should always maintain a record of the destruction itself. This will prove that destruction policies and procedures are being followed on a consistent basis.
  • Regular program reviews: To be effective, a retention program must be dynamic – adapting to both internal and external changes. To maintain the vitality of your retention program, it helps to conduct regular reviews. These include re-visiting the mandated retention periods, which can change from time to time. It should also include reviews of policies and procedures. Are they working for staff? Are they being followed consistently?

Like most things in the world of RIM, effective retention is not a simple matter. To do it right, it has to be treated as a program in its own right, requiring careful thought and discipline to make it work.

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