e-Records 2012: Leadership

e-records conference imageThis article is the sixth and final in a series of recaps of the 2012 e-Records Conference, a conference dedicated to electronic records management that has been co-sponsored by TSLAC and the Department of Information Resources since 2000. Presentations from the e-Records Conference are available on the e-Records 2012 website.

By Angela Ossar, Government Information Analyst

I think a recap of T. J. Wasden’s inspiring keynote speech on leadership is a great way to end this series of e-Records 2012 takeaways. Wasden, the Records Management Officer for the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), talked about building his agency’s records management program from a staff of 4 to a staff of 70. He believes that the key to this success is strong leadership.

Wasden presented a threefold approach to leadership: leading by learning, with leverage, and through license.

Leadership by Learning

Wasden pointed to this quote from Information Management Journal to illustrate the importance of a records manager’s continual learning:

To survive, the modern records manager must learn new skills and continue to evolve – those who do not face extinction or will revert to being simply the custodians of paper-based recordkeeping systems.

There are a wealth of training opportunities for government records managers. Wasden first pointed to the RMICC Best Practices Committee report (part of the RMICC Biennial Report we wrote about earlier this month). “You have at your disposal,” he said, “the fruits of 1,000 hours put in by the BPC.” The report contains 20 recommendations for training, organizational alignment, and compliance for Texas state agencies.

Records managers should take advantage of as many training opportunities as they can. Wasden pointed to NARA’s extensive guidance, publications, reference materials. He also mentioned TSLAC’s training, online courses, webinars, and consulting services. (And our blog, The Texas Record was also recognized as a valuable source of learning by Peggy Rudd, TSLAC’s Executive Director, in her opening remarks!)  If you’re looking for a wealth of good brochures, flyers, and FAQ’s, Wasden suggested looking at UT Medical Branch at Galveston’s records management program website.

How do you ensure that you can continue to get the education you need? By showing what you learn.  Whenever you return from training, always show your agency what you’ve learned and how it benefits the organization.

Leadership with Leverage

Sometimes it’s hard to make a difference when, as one survey respondent despaired, “you are buried so deep you can’t effect change.” The law does dictates who can serve as a Records Management Officer for a state agency (Sec. 441.184(a), Government Code). In reality, as shown by the survey’s report that only 41% of state agency records managers are in senior management roles, the current arrangement in most agencies doesn’t meet the spirit of the law.

But it’s not a hopeless situation. Wasden then quoted one of his favorite books, Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control — myself.” The key is to use a small amount of energy that generates a larger return. (Another one of Wasden’s favorite books is Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers, whose message is that effective leaders are those who multiply, not diminish, the work of others.)

And leading with leverage is about developing relationships — sitting down and having coffee with people you need to work with, and cultivating relationships. This point was echoed later in the day, with someone in the DIR panel giving the tip that “breakfast tacos help” and then again when Galveston County’s RMO said that success comes down to sitting down with departments and asking how Records Management can help them.  Find out, said Wasden, what’s interesting and important to departments in your organization, and go from there. Being an enabler gets you a seat at the table.

Some strategic collaborations at DFPS came out of the agency’s involvement in a class action lawsuit.  Records Management, Legal, and Information Technology had to team up to meet the Judge’s orders for discovery. This experience showed them that they all have common goals: they all desire to keep records safe and secure, they all have an interest in organized and efficient recordkeeping and preventing the proliferation of duplicates, and they all benefit from translating the agency’s retention schedule into something that everyone can understand. Wasden recommended teaming up with these departments to provide effective training.

And when you meet roadblocks in collaboration?  “Remember the 5 Times Rule. Don’t give up until you’ve been told ‘No’ five times.”

Leadership through License

It takes a certain amount of license to effectively run a records management program. The law actually does give RMOs a lot of license and authority (see Chapter 441, Government Code); it’s just a matter of how strictly an agency complies with the law.

Wasden advised advocating for your agency’s training to be mandatory. DFPS’s records management training takes 10 minutes and exists to simply let employees know that the agency is thinking about records and that the Records Management staff is there to help.  If you’re not comfortable doing the training, he recommended reaching out to someone who is.

Along the lines of mandatory training, Wasden pointed out something that many people don’t know: TSLAC has the license to make records management training mandatory (see Sec. 441.182(e)(3), Government Code).  The RMICC report did make this recommendation to the legislature, citing the fact that the Department of Information Resources requires mandatory training for Institutional Resources Managers (IRMs) and the Office of the Attorney General requires mandatory training for Public Information Officers (PIOs).

And now, it’s time to say…

This concludes our series of recaps of the e-Records 2012 Conference. I hope that you all have benefited from them as much as I’ve benefited from writing them!  I appreciate the comments you’ve made and the feedback you’ve emailed to me, letting us know what new things you’ve learned and tidbits you can use in your own programs. I really felt a spirit of collaboration echoed throughout all the sessions of this year’s e-Records Conference, and it inspired me to work even harder to find out what TSLAC can do for the fearless records managers of Texas.  Happy holidays from us and we’ll see you — with quite a long to-do list — in 2013!