Monday, 11 August 2008

Records Management as part of Staff Development?

We held our first online workshop on the new Records Management 2.0 social networking site last Friday on the topic of ‘what does RM have to offer the information literate user? Though the number of participants was quite low, the debate was lively and certainly interesting enough to justify arranging another scheduled workshop on another topic in the near future.

One of the thoughts which the discussion prompted in my own mind was the potential value of the RM function actually forming part of the ‘staff development’ (or similar) unit within an organisation – usually to be found as part of the Human Resources function. As we all know, the records management team - or individual records manager - can currently be found in a wide variety of places within the organisational structure (IT, information services, legal/compliance, facilities management, Chief Execs office etc) but rarely, if ever, within HR.

At first glance they might seem unlikely bedfellows, especially given the great stress placed on RM as part of legal compliance in recent years. But my fear is (as expressed during the discussion) that we, as a profession, are currently seen by many individual users as being too bureaucratic, heavy-handed and ‘dictatorial’ and therefore as part of ‘the problem’; rather than as an ally, someone with practical answers to real problems and someone who understands and sympathises with their needs. I know many of us strive to take as many steps in this direction as we possibly can, but perhaps by so often being inextricably linked to the policy and management functions of the organisation we make this task far harder to achieve than it would be if we were seen to be on the side of the users. After all, at the end of the day it is their actions – rather than policy frameworks and central diktats – which have the greatest impact on how our records are managed. To a great extent this has always been the case, but is a trend which continues to increase the more technology continues to empower the individual user.

There is often a lot of talk about the records manager making use of the ‘carrot’ as well as ‘stick’ but my suspicion is that this is usually more along the lines of "this new process/system/policy that I am about to force you to use is actually great because…", rather than "what could we do to help make your life easier?".


Phillip Ruston said...

Hmm - I did not participate in the workshop, but I'm not sure that putting IRM in HR would help - but this would of course depend on the "view" of HR as held by the wider organisational population. If the wider organisation hold HR in good regard (and I've never worked anywhere where this is the case!), then it would be a good political alliance, but I'm not sure of the functional benefits. I can see why the suggestion has come up though. I think the answer is to place the IRM function in the organisation where it's going to have the most effect on the culture - and this could be the development space in some organisations. - Phillip

Bernadette Bean said...

The RM function was part of HR when I joined Health (state government department in Australia) three years ago. It wasn't a particularly happy arrangement as we were definitely the poor relation by a long shot (HR is arguably the biggest single factor in the Health Sector). Also the organisation in general didn't have a particularly favourable view of HR due to the fact it requires them to spend a lot of time tinkering around with endless form-filling and workforce statistical reporting and the RM function suffered from reflected dissatisfaction. About 18 months ago we were moved to the Admin/Corporate Services part of the organisation and have since been relatively well off (more funding for proejcts, more staff etc).

Of course the change in structure coincided with a different boss and my own growing understanding of this complex organisation so the improvements in RM's fortunes are probably not entirely due to being removed from HR but I'm sure it played a signifant role.

Steve Bailey said...

I'm sure you are both right (particularly Bernadette who obviously had first hand experience of this). Our HR colleagues seem less popular than I had thought - I must have just been lucky so far!

To be honest, the main reason for the post was to emphasize why I think RM must start to position itself more obviously on the side of the user and aligning ourselves with those bits of the organisation which already have an official brief to do this seemed one way - at a superficial level at least - of encouraging that.

Personally I still feel that this represents a valid change of emphasis, but agree that integration with HR may well create as many problems as it solves!

Andrew Stewart said...

Think I'm on a different wave length here but still, every comments valid - plus it's late.

It’s quite interesting that before reading the comments I was getting sucked into the idea. I’m still trying to finish your book Steve and had it on the train with me today when a friend (nothing to do with RM/IT etc) noted how interesting the topic was. Not that RM (which they focussed on) doesn’t sound interesting, its just no Dan Brown if you know what I mean (I’ll stop digging).

If RM was pitched/marketed at the right level through HR via staff development you could begin to get change agents on board throughout the organisation which begins the whole process of a bottom-up surge of employees who promote and practice good RM. After spending time with you and AC I don’t understand why it’s not perceived as a key skill.