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Nov 7 / Angela Ossar

Records Retention and E-mail: A Mandatory Municipal Training

For this article, we welcome guest blogger Amy Sanchez, Deputy City Secretary IV, City of Laredo, Texas. Amy describes her experience training over eight hundred city employees to manage email. Thank you for sharing, Amy!

Gearing up to teach email class #40

For approximately three weeks, three sessions per day, I taught 850 municipal employees about how to apply TSLAC’s records retention schedules to their e-mail. By the time I had finished training all 850 employees, I had given the same presentation forty times. Needless to say, I was pretty tired of doing it by the time I had taught my thirtieth class!

So, what was it like? Well, it had its good and not-so-good points, but I’d say that the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks.

For instance, while I am not at all terrified of public speaking, this involved giving a presentation about a subject that’s not exactly fascinating to most people, and giving it in front of a captive audience who had been compelled by their superiors to attend. Knowing that some of the employees might potentially resent having to leave their work to come and sit for an hour and listen to me, I tried to make the presentation as interesting as possible.

One means of doing this was to make sure that the employees knew, right from the start, that they were learning about this because it would directly affect them. My very first slide showed what the penalties are for destroying a local government record contrary to the provisions of the Local Government Records Act and the Public Information Act. That usually helped to get their attention; I often saw some startled looks on the faces of the audience members when I used the words “Class A misdemeanor or third degree felony”!

I also felt that it would help to keep the employees engaged if I made everyone participate in an exercise right in the middle of the presentation. I used five different e-mails of different types and asked the employees to use the GR schedule to identify which retention category applied to each one. In most sessions I had no problem getting the employees to participate, but there were some groups in which most of the attendees were reluctant to speak up. After my second week of teaching, I decided to add some sound effects to help loosen up the employees. I had an “applause” sound, a “wrong answer” sound, a “cricket” sound (for when no one wanted to answer), and the Jeopardy! theme song that I played during my bonus question portion. The sound effects worked really well; in groups where people were not inclined to participate, often the sound of the crickets or the Jeopardy! song evoked laughter and more employees volunteering their answers. I only wished I had thought of adding sound effects from the very beginning.

I also thought it would help to relax the employees if I came across as approachable, so I decided to tell a few jokes. Being originally from the Midwest, I told redneck jokes; most of the time the audience laughed, but occasionally I was met with confused looks which told me that perhaps I should have chosen different material! :)

Teaching the Police Department on the final day of training

Of course, in some groups there were employees who either fell asleep or rudely talked to their buddies seated next to them throughout the presentation. My method of dealing with the sleepers and the talkers was to ask them a question; in every session I directed a “suppose I sent you this e-mail, what would happen” type of query to different employees. It often helped to make the person more alert. I also even occasionally resorted to calling out, “Hello! Over here!” until they looked up and realized that yes, I was calling them out on their behavior! Truthfully, though, I knew that the saying is true: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can stuff a room full of employees and tell them they must learn about records retention, but they can let the information go in one ear and out the other if they choose. I believe, however, that most of the employees were both listening and learning.

Questions that cropped up over and over again were, “What if my computer crashes and all these e-mails I have saved are destroyed?” I answered that one by emphasizing the need to back up files and make a good faith effort to preserve data. I also found that the IT staff in one department didn’t necessarily agree with the IT staff in the next department regarding the best way to preserve electronic messages; while one group would favor saving e-mails as PST files, other groups favored using the saved message folders in Outlook while others disagreed with both options but didn’t provide me with any other ideas. I began adding a sort of “disclaimer” to my presentation and telling the employees to check with their IT staff first before deciding how to save their long-term messages. Our city e-mail server automatically backs up everyone’s e-mail messages for four years, so I showed during the presentation how some messages will have a longer retention period than that and how the IT department is not responsible for their records retention but rather the individual who has created the message.

So all-in-all, I found that the vast majority of the employees paid attention and learned what they needed to know. Many people asked me questions pertaining to their own department’s records, which showed that they had been listening to the presentation; I also had some questions that I had to go back to the office and look up before I could answer them properly. I feel glad that the employees now are aware of what they need to do regarding records retention; awareness is the first step to improving how we handle records management as an organization. My last step will be to upload the webinar to our city’s website so that future employees can learn about how to handle their e-mail…that is, until TSLAC comes out with new retention schedules!

Have you presented training to employees on email management? How did it go? If you have a story to share with our readers, please contact us!

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