Obtaining Buy-In: Record Creators and Users

When entering the records management world, it doesn’t take long to figure out that it is generally difficult for records leaders to obtain buy-in from others in their office. We’ve heard from many records leaders that staff don’t feel records management is pertinent to their job’s responsibilities, the term “records management” sounds too dated to be relevant to modern operations, or people see the value in what records leaders do but aren’t willing to stick to the procedures.

Although trying to obtain buy-in can be a thankless, time-consuming, and never-ending task, we’re here to remind you that you’ve got this! Whether it is recognized within your office or not, records management is in every aspect of every employee’s job, which means records management is a service that everyone relies on. That reliance is an opportunity to take advantage of, because it allows you to explore ways to provide a tailored service to obtain buy-in.

We’ll discuss 7 potential ways to approach records management when it comes to obtaining this buy-in. We encourage you to vet and expand on the 7 ways. Go to the drawing board and have fun!

1. Understand and relay what their role is.

Records creators and users hold the answer to many of your record’s management questions. Including but not limited to, what purpose the record serves for your office, understanding the record’s content, knowing if a record is active or inactive, information to determine the record’s administrative value, and if the existing program is efficient.

Approach the records creators and users as subject matter experts in these areas to help them understand that you value their knowledge, and the office could not comply with its associated requirements and obligations if it wasn’t for them doing some sort of records management. Connecting the dots on a gradual basis can help them understand how large running a records management program truly is.

It is important for you to understand their role, department’s functions, and workflow, because you can utilize the information when developing a newly-structured filing system. By considering their workflow you can setup a structure that mimics their functions and by considering their role’s responsibilities you can create a file naming setup that is relatable. E.g., A folder named “Internal Training Development – IT Department” will be more relatable for IT employees then a folder named “Training and Educational Achievement Records – GR1050-28b.” Remember who utilizes the file structure every day. If you are attempting to enforce very complicated or deemed-unnecessary file naming conventions, then any buy-in you obtain will likely be overturned.

2. Put yourself in their shoes as much as you can.

Take yourself to a pessimistic place… you’re sitting in traffic that is held up by a red light and it only allows three cars at a time through. There are no turn off streets. Your Bluetooth isn’t working, so you cannot listen to your own music, and the radio is playing the worst sounds to come across your ears. Or, whatever a “pessimistic place” means for you.

Now that you’re there, think about that one form or procedure you’re required to do by that one department. Do you have to do it often? No. Once you think about why you must complete that form or procedure; do you realize the value in it? Yes. Does that stop you from rolling your eyes and stomping your feet every time you’re asked to do that one form or procedure? Not I.

David from Schitt's Creek saying "Okay... Well, I won't be doing that."

Now ask yourself, for records creators and users, do you envision the process being any different when you ask them to setup a new filing system, complete a disposition log, etc.? They might understand the value but to obtain buy-in you will need to remember that they have other things they deem more important, valuable, relatable, and fun that they want to work on, so make this process as painless as possible.

3. Learn their terminology.

Understanding a department’s terminology will not only help you look relatable, but it will also help you answer records management questions. For example, let’s say the legal department says the purpose of this record is to document “disposition” of a case. As a person in the records department, you will likely hear “disposition” when a record is transferred based on historical or permanent value or destroyed because it’s met retention. However, to your legal department “disposition” meant the outcome of the case. Very different definitions that if not understood will lead to the wrong record series being assigned.

One tool to help you retain your office’s terminology is a corporation dictionary. A corporation dictionary is compiled of highly used terms among an office. Like a general dictionary, there are definitions for each term. Unlike a general dictionary, the definitions are tailored to how different departments use that term.

Example of Corporation Dictionary
defining the term data. For finance department, data means pieces or sets of information related to financial health of a business. Such as bank account information, debts, assets, or credit ratings. For the Information Technology department data means Information that has been translated into a form that is efficient for movement or processing. For Records Management department data means Individual raw elements (characters, symbols) that if arranged in a meaningful way, data can create valuable information. E.g., “TSLAC” is data and does not mean much, but when put in a sentence “TSLAC is an agency that will be presenting tomorrow,” provides more context.
Example of Corporation Dictionary

This tool is a great reference tool to use when deciding what record series to assign to a record, because you will be able to understand what purpose the record serves for the department. Pro tip: Set a reminder to review the corporation dictionary periodically, so subject matter experts can update any outdated definitions.

4. Designate knowledgeable and interested liaisons.

Two recommended candidates for liaisons are your best friend that loves records and is willing to help you, and departmental liaisons. Both are people you should designate and value!

The reason to designate your BFF who loves records is pretty self-explanatory.

2 best friends with "Double Trouble" on their sweaters. Caption above says "Coming for your file setup."

This is not an inclusive list of reasons to designate a departmental liaison but some reasons to do so are because it will likely aid in staff member’s perception of the program. Staff members will perceive the departmental liaison as someone who understands how much time their department spends on projects and assignments. Or, in other words, someone who doesn’t want to overburden the department and only wants to implement the best targeted records management methods for that department.

Designating a departmental liaison will also create efficient communication channels. One of those channels is between the departmental liaison and staff members within their department because they have similar subject matter knowledge (discussed in point 1). The other channel is between you and the departmental liaison because they are showing an interest in records management and have the record’s creators and user’s subject matter knowledge. This means you can train them to be rounded in both areas and that they can help you close your knowledge gaps. Such as what is the administrative value of this record. They also likely know who in their department can answer any open questions, which will prevent you from bugging the department with follow-up questions.

5. Before change, learn and respect the existing program.

Your big ideas are awesome! However, they might not all be necessary or realistic for their file setup and operations. You’re also likely going to receive a lot of push back if you come in trying to reinvent the wheel, or at least change most of the wheel. This is because people generally question if an existing operation, system, software, etc. has already been tested. As a big idea person this can be disappointing but push back can be helpful because it ensures that you apply only necessary time and money to creating and implementing new ideas. It also ensures that your office’s internal knowledge is retained. So, prior to any change, talk with records creators, users, liaisons, and your management department.

6. Be an ally and know that you are responsible for enforcing.

You can’t always be the cool teacher with their chair and hat turned around backwards. Sometimes you do have to be the enforcer and set the records management standards or outline the ugly consequences of not properly managing records, but sometimes you can also be a friend teaching records creators and users techniques that will professionally advance them.

7. Which leads to: Approach and market techniques as a glow feature that will make their life easier.

There are many ways to approach this, but one example is to approach and advertise a file naming convention as a finding aid that will help quickly find the information that they need when they need it. Advertise that creating file naming conventions may not initially be easy but it will eventually become second nature, because it will use terms and metadata they recognize. Creating an easy-to-understand procedures that the creator and user can fall back on will help them learn how to continue creating their own. Let them know if all else fails that you and the liaison are here to work out the kinks.

When you walk through that department’s door, you are likely seen as a person with rules that will make others conform to a uniformed and cohesive filing system setup. For some, that may be everything they have ever wanted. And for those of us rebels, that rings off bells in our heads and visualizations of our file systems being transformed to a setup that doesn’t work for us. You really are the median between both worlds, so make sure you convey that. Remember, it’s all about the approach!  

By obtaining buy-in from records creators and users you will be able implement a records management program that can be built upon and won’t be lost along the way.

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