In my last article (How to Build Out a Records Program – Step 1: Develop a Plan) I explained how to put together a Strategic Records Management Plan that builds the vision of what the program should look like when fully implemented. In this article I will cover the why and how of conducting a Status Check to figure out where the organization currently stands with Records Management.
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So why should you conduct a Status Check? Well, in order to achieve the vision you set out in your Strategic Plan you need to have an Implementation Plan (that will be covered in my next article), and to build the Implementation Plan you need to know where you’re starting from. The Status Check will investigate what current records management practices are happening throughout the organization. The Status Check sets out the starting point for each of the steps the Implementation Plan will need to address in order to fulfill the Strategic Plan’s desired outcome. The Status Check sets the stage.

The ‘how’ of conducting a Status Check includes a number of steps.  Knowing the end objectives expressed in the Strategic Plan, you can decide what’s most important to understand about the current status of the company’s record practices. Using this information you can construct your status investigation questions. If, for example, a desired outcome is to have a standardized naming convention, you’ll want to include questions about how business units are currently naming documents and folders. By documenting this information you can include steps in the Implementation Plan that will address the development steps between the current practices and that desired final outcome.

To assist in the question development you may need to reference any standards that you used in developing the Strategic Plan. The standards, which lay out industry best practices, may guide you in how to frame questions.  Along the same line, some industry standards, such as the Generally Accepted Record-keeping Principles, may have companion documents like the Maturity Model and these may be integrated with pre-designed self assessment documents. These self assessments may be a means to reduce your effort in developing your own status check questions. And, even if the included questions don’t fit your needs exactly, a pre-built assessment could give you great ideas for questions you should be investigating.

Once you’ve established what information you want to gather you have to decide how to gather it. Will you use online survey tools? Will you conduct one-on-one or group interviews? Will you develop and distribute a self-assessment tool, or use a pre-developed assessment? Or, maybe there is some other information collection method you have in mind. From personal experience I have found surveys to be somewhat difficult to use to collect a wide variety of information without the survey being extremely long. Also, surveys can be easily ignored by the potential respondents. Similarly, distributed self-assessments can be long and easily ignored. And, in both cases, there may need to be explanations supplied to terms used within the survey/assessment.

Conversely, my experience with in-person (or phone) interviews is that they are highly effective in collecting information. A scripted approach will keep interviews focused while the in-person interaction allows for the interviewer to pick up on cues provided by the interviewee that will drive further questions. At the same time, if terminology is used that an interviewee doesn’t understand, there is an immediate opportunity to ask for clarity. And, unlike the surveys and assessments, a meeting invite is a lot harder to ignore!  Again, in my experience, the most effective interview execution is a two person team with one team member doing the questioning while the other is taking the notes.  A good note taker is invaluable.

Regardless of the collection method, you will also need to design your collection recording document (likely a spreadsheet) to be usable in the next development of the implementation plan. I would recommend the following as columns to include in your spreadsheet:

  • Requirement – this is your desired outcome
  • Current Status – this is commentary on what the interviewee’s business unit is currently doing in light of the requirement
  • Condition Measure (optional) – this is a short version identification of the status for that requirement (0 = not met, 1 = partially met, 2 = fully met)
  • Recommendation – this is commentary on the mitigation actions recommended to bring the status to fully met  (this column will be used to develop the Implementation Plan)

For readability, and to focus the interview flow, it’s also a good idea to group your questions by related topic. For example, group questions about software, passwords and other IT related questions together.

A clear and concise Status Check is essential for a well informed Implementation Plan (Step 3 in building out your Records Program), so be thorough in your process.

Steve Neilly, CRM has been a Certified Records Manager (CRM) since 2005. He has experience in a wide variety of industries and has been involved in many aspects of Information Management and Governance, that span the entire Records Management Life-cycle. Steve has conducted work locally, nationally and internationally. Before consulting to both governments and private industry, Steve was a corporate Records Manager and Privacy Officer for 15 years. As an industry veteran, Steve has been a regular speaker at industry events across both Canada and the US.