Whilst presenting at a recent event, a member of the audience asked me how Records Managers can make themselves “sexier” in an organisation.
While my immediate response of “Stop wearing cardigans!” was met with laughter, it did get me thinking, “How are Records Managers perceived in most organisations? And if that perception isn’t what they’d like it to be, what can they do to change it?”
As someone who is reasonably new to the RM world, I decided to interview the person who asked the question so we could get to the bottom of this issue. And that’s how I ended up having a fantastic conversation with Anne Cornish MRIM, General Manager of RIMPA (The Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia) and a 35-year records and information management (RIM) veteran. Anne was so generous in sharing her experience and wisdom that I wanted to pass it along.
Bruce: How did you first get into Records Management?
Anne: My mother’s rules were that I either went to school or I got a job. I applied for a job that came up at the local council where I lived, doing filing. I ended up staying in the same organization for 11 years. I’ve now been in the industry for over 40 years, which just shows that it worked out okay. When I first started in this industry, it was by default and not by choice, which is probably the case for a lot of people.
Bruce: I’ve heard some war stories from the field that in some organisations, RIMs are often feared, and people do anything in their power to avoid them. Has this been your experience, and have you witnessed it over your years as a RIM?
Anne: Definitely witnessed! Often, the rest of the organization don’t care because we are so good at saying “No!” We say “no” to everything! Can we do this? No! You’ve got to do it this way, or that way, or you’ve got to do it the compliant way. It’s not “sexy,” and unlike RIMs, individuals don’t care about compliance. I’m really being quite blunt, but the fact is that it’s not their day-to-day business and they just don’t care, because it’s a RIM’s job to worry about stuff like that.
As a RIM professional, we’re asking you to do something that you probably don’t want to; we’re asking you to save your records in a different way than how you’ve been doing it for years and years. We wanted people to change in a way that wasn’t normal for them (and it really bugs me).
In the 1990s, the big thing was to devolve records out to the organisation. Organisations were going a bit more digital, and there were electronic records and records management systems (not a full EDRMS). Suddenly, a big trend occurred that was essentially, “Let’s devolve it out, let’s make the users basically do their own records management.” So, in a short period of time, what we essentially did was set ourselves backwards by years because we severely undervalued our skill set.
It allowed management to assume that everybody out there could be a records manager and that users knew how to classify, dispose, and do whatever a records manager could do. It was an absolute shemozzle! Naturally it had to be brought back in and RIMs started picking up the pieces.
A big clean-up took place and there was a bit of recognition that RIMs were needed—as we should have been all along! But we were part of that problem because we allowed it to happen in the first place.
Bruce: If we look at an organisation from the outside, finance issues usually require a finance specialist, like an accountant, and legal issues usually require a legal specialist, like a lawyer. Do you think organisations know who to lean on when they have a Records issue or query that may potentially span across these types of fields?
Anne: I don’t believe they do—but this is not going to change unless we tell them! We need to stop being introverted and “basement dwellers” and get off our seats and let them know we are here and what we do. People don’t know what they don’t know, and we need to build the profile ourselves and not rely on legislation, government hierarchy’s or our state records or commonwealth records/archive offices.
I do a lot of presentations on how to increase RIM profiles within organisations and one of the things I suggest is “change your name.” Don’t be the “Record Services Area” and don’t be the “Records Team.” Use words like “knowledge,” “information,” and “data” where it makes sense, but get rid of “records.” What you do and what you’re called are two different things. Call yourself “pink and purple polka dots” if it means you’re going to get recognized!
Bruce: I have a few ideas, but I’m guessing you have some key tips on how RIM professionals can turn this perception around?
Anne: I have seven key areas that I think you need to address in order to turn your perception around as a RIM. They are:
- Know your organisation
- Gain trust
- Create value
Bruce: Let’s start with “Knowing your organisation.” This is a big one that I speak about a lot when I’m talking about how RIMs and IT can work better together. I’ve defined it as “understanding your landscape” from a technical standpoint—understanding the solutions you have in place and how to best leverage them as a RIM. I feel that that definition may be too niche though. So, what advice would you give RIMs to get them to better “know their organisation?”
Anne: Get out and speak to the people you work with and ask them what they are experiencing when it comes to managing and retrieving their information. Explain what you can do for them. You’ll be surprised how little they know about what us RIMs do.
In summary, here are my key tips for “getting to know your organisation:”
- Don’t assume you know what your colleagues need
- Don’t assume they know what you have to offer
- Understand the problems users face daily
- Find out whether Senior Management is on board with the RIM
- Understand what the RIM culture is
- Be creative and open to change
- Understand your organisation’s demographics
- Identify the influencers
Bruce: RIMs may not have explored these questions, yet they need to get some answers, which leads into your second key tip: “Collaborate.” I find that when I hear the word “collaboration” these days, it is mostly in relation to collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams. I think the pandemic has definitely made organisation-wide collaboration harder from a face-to-face perspective. How can RIMs better collaborate in their organisations?
Anne: Don’t implement rules or systems without talking to the business about how it will impact them. It’s like when IT upgrades to a new system overnight, with very little training or notice. The next day your icons are gone, your favourites no longer exist, and your contacts don’t automatically populate. The result is painful, as now you need to search for your contacts, re-locate your favourites, and work out where to save content.
Working with people on change and understanding their pain points and where they can be avoided goes a long way. The impact can be prepared for and then be more accepted by users.
Here are my key tips for collaborating with the business users in your organisation:
- Identify what the business wants and needs. Talk with key stakeholders to understand what they do.
- Approach these sessions like a consultant, with an attitude of “I know nothing, so tell me everything.”
- Get yourself out of the office and into the mainstream. Visit depots, tea rooms, and social club events. Deliver hardcopy mail or information to people and take the opportunity to introduce yourself.
- Ask managers for a chat over coffee
- Invite yourself to meetings and committees, e.g. evaluation panels for new software, IT Change Group, (CAB) audit committee, etc.
- Make time to attend each business/team meeting, telling them what you do and asking them to share their RIM issues. Put RIM on the executive management meeting agenda.
- Meet with the influencers in your organisation, e.g. PAs/executive assistants, long-term employees, etc.
Bruce: Great points there, Anne! With people working remotely (or hybrid), it can definitely be difficult to get out and about in the workplace. Therefore, there must be a reliance on technology to conduct these meetings and interactions in a thoughtful and engaging manner. Online Teams events organised by the organisation, or even yourself, can be an awesome way to engage with people who you may not have otherwise interacted with.
Prioritizing collaboration—in-person or virtually—will get your name out there in the organisation, but I think one of the key points is to gain peoples’ trust. This will happen naturally as you get to know them more, but do you have any suggestions on how to speed up the process?
Anne: If there is going to be an impact or change, be honest. My motto is, “under-sell and over-deliver.” People will start to come to you for their issues as they trust you will help and resolve their concerns.
I have a few additional tips for establishing trust in an organisation:
- Every time you speak, you are being judged or assessed:
- Do you know what you are talking about?
- Are you approachable?
- Can you be trusted?
- Only tell truths, speak passionately about what you know, read your audience, and speak accordingly.
- Use language that people understand – get rid of the jargon
- Empathise with the issues (even if you think they are not valid)
- Small fixes can be big wins
- Always follow through with what you say you are going to do
Bruce: Agreed, and I find these points to be valid across IT and consulting, not just RIMs. Passion and commitment shine through in any interpersonal communications, so being an approachable yet trusted advisor can be imperative to the success of RIM in an organisation.
Another key strategy to create rapport with colleagues is to help educate them. Think of the old adage, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Coming from an IT background, I have relied heavily on the RIMs around me to educate and advise me on best practices—something I’m truly thankful for. In many organisations, educating colleagues can be a minefield to navigate. How can RIMs successfully navigate this minefield?
Anne: Records Managers tend to train once and then expect everyone forever to know what to do. With personnel changes happening regularly, ongoing education is imperative. Training should be concise and relevant. Don’t try and show Finance how to use a system with HR examples. It will mean nothing to them, your credibility will be lost, and they will have turned off.
These are my tips for how RIMs can approach education in their organisation:
- Educate and inspire, don’t “sell” or try to manipulate
- Try to refrain from using the following “salesy” phrases:
- “Increased productivity”
- “Becoming digital”
- Clearly explain and articulate the benefits for:
- An individual
- A business unit or team
- The organisation
- When conducting training sessions, keep the following in mind:
- Make it interactive and use storytelling techniques
- Keep it quick (two hours maximum)
- Make the information pertinent and punchy (Why train on how to archive if this is not their job?)
- Offer online training that is easily accessible and provides recap questions
- Provide one-on-one training for specific groups or managers
- Train at the desk if you can
- Offer the same session, many times, and on multiple dates
In the back of your mind, always remember whilst educating that you’re not trying to make people in your organisation records managers; doing so would only repeat history and undervalue your skill set.
Bruce: Education is a continuous process, but it can sometimes lead to people thinking, “That’s not that hard” or “I don’t see why we need a RIM.” In your experience, what has worked well and what hasn’t when it comes to demonstrating value to an organisation?
Anne: You need to work hard to show the benefits of your services. Demonstrate improvements to the business process by providing services that meet the business need. For example, stop expecting staff to be document/record classifiers. For one, this your skill set. For another, they just don’t get it. Implement structures and processes that work for the business and leave the “records-y” stuff to those who know what to do. Set workspace structures that are aligned to how the business wants to work. The users don’t care about functional classification—this is something that we as RIMs can map to the compliant classification scheme or file plan. Use systems that make the capture as transparent and seamless as possible. Search engines should be easy to use; users shouldn’t need to know what a Boolean search is. Create value and be the team that everyone needs.
My additional tips for creating and demonstrating value are:
- Provide solutions and not problems
- Educate the organisation on the benefits of effective RIM
- Remain engaged with the business – this is not a one-off project
- Expand your contributions beyond your comfort zone. It may not be directly linked to RIM but has a connection.
- Help everyone and become invaluable
- Connect the RIM values and objectives to the organisational values and objectives
- Establish yourself as a trusted advisor
Bruce: Something I consistently preach to RIMs is your next key point, Communication! The importance of good communication with key stakeholders cannot be understated – it’s the cornerstone of everything RIMs do! From an organisational perspective, I think that communication is all about active listening and gaining a comprehensive understanding of requirements, needs, goals, and strategic objectives. I’m keen to get your opinion on how you define communication and hear any tips you may have for RIMs to communicate better within their respective organisations.
Anne: Tell everyone what Records are doing, attend team meetings and bring them up to date, and get a seat at the management table twice a year. Advertise your services!
In summary, here are my key tips:
- Provide solutions
- Select key messages
- Communicate your passion and enthusiasm
- Ask for input and feedback
- Be truthful
- Be consistent with your communications
Bruce: To sum it all up, we come down to possibly the most important of your key tips: Deliver. As someone who’s been a consultant for most of my professional life, this one really rings true. To me, the most important thing is doing what you say you’re going to do—though this is more of a life tip than an RIM-only tip! What about you?
Anne: You must do what you say you will. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into an organisation and been told that this was the third or fourth time that a records system has been tried and failed. You are already starting from behind with no trust and no buy-in. The organisation doesn’t have time for another failure.
In summary, here are my key tips:
- Don’t set expectations you cannot deliver on
- Under-promise and over-deliver
- Effective delivery gives you and your team credibility.
It was enlightening talking to Anne about her experiences. Ultimately, despite RIMs usually coming into the industry in a variety of ways, they should be commended for the pace at which the industry is moving to meet the demands of a modern workplace. I couldn’t agree more with what Anne had to say about getting to know your organisation. Her strategies above can be challenging to execute within the current COVID workplace environment, so I think a key point here is to take advantage of the technology you have at hand to piece together how the organisation fits together.
There is also a running theme of “perception,” and what you can do as an RIM to change that perception in an organisation. Unfortunately, for most people, perception is reality. If you fail to manage the organisation’s perception of RIMs, then you are going to struggle to make any headway. Get yourself out there in the workplace (physical and/or virtual), speak the truth, do what you say you will, and don’t act like a used car salesperson. If you gain trust and give back to the organisation by way of education, there’s a real chance you can grow your own profile—and the perception of RIM—favourably.