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Taking records management through changing times

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Taking records management through changing times

  1. 1. TAKING RECORDS MANAGEMENT THROUGH CHANGING TIMES Change is constant1 and comes in many different shapes and forms. Mergers, acquisitions2, organisational closure, are some of the many change events that happen more or less continuously across all sectors. In 2011, as we contemplate widespread changes across the UK public sector, the hard won lessons from the change events described below may prove valuable to records managers We don’t need to dwell on the labelling since the reasons why organisations join together (or split asunder or disappear altogether) usually fall into one of the following categories:  Efficiency gains  Synergy and economy of scale  Increased market share  Vertical integration or diversification  Management hubris or empire-building Despite the justifications organisations use, academic research shows that the success rate of mergers and acquisitions falls out between 40% and 50% which really is no surprise given the complication and complexity of these undertakings. Success is obviously elusive and needs (the literature declares): strategic fit and intent, detailed planning, clear control, pace, communication, taking best from both, focus on a few major issues, focus on people. Obvious, but difficult. Mergers are everyday work with the volume turned up! Everything that happens in a merger or similar event happens at other times too. There are new organisational and functional groupings; changes in personnel; decisions made somewhere else without consultation; consistently uneven communication; and far too little support for people. My response is to say that this is just like everyday work3. Get hold of that fact and get on with it! My two big mergers I was working as corporate records manager and archivist for a UK based pharmaceutical company when it was merged with a larger rival in 1995. Essentially an acquisition, the merger was executed quickly. Both companies had HQs in London (we soon occupied only one) and there was one major site closure in the UK which kept a records management team busy there for another year or so. In 2000, my then much larger company merged with an equally large rival to form the largest company in the industry. This merger was driven from the USA where the other
  2. 2. company (although a UK company) was headquartered. This was a much slower affair; much bigger and there was a lot of travelling to and fro between sites to carry out merger business. What was supposed to happen? On both occasions, we were told to carry on with work as normal. “Business as usual. Keep focused on the job. It’s important to keep the organisation running.” On the other hand, there was frequent reference made to the hundred day timetable that seemed to be driving activity and it became clear that there had been a great deal of functional analysis and pooling of people carried out already. There was a phased engagement of people starting with senior management and going down through the organisation. There was a new organisational design but only in outline and there was much fine detail to iron out. In 1995, I (and my team) were introduced to our counterparts and were anticipating a straight competition for jobs. Within weeks, we’d been moved to another part of the company entirely and were now (as part of a much larger pool of people) facing selection for jobs in a substantially larger team. If there were consultants involved (there were), they were invisible to me. The first task to complete was people selection. Stressful at times; but over in a few weeks. Once selected, we then got stuck into legacy projects (a major site with an enormous quantity of records was closing) and understanding what business as usual meant in the new company. In 2000, our counterparts were spread across the UK and USA. The merger was much larger and far more complex. This time, consultants appeared to take forward the detailed design of parts of the company. The new organisation was very big and people very quickly learned to stay within their own division. Cross-divisional working became a major challenge. In my memory, the process of selection took a long time. Records management and my mergers This might sound obvious but all these various organisations did records management differently and all the players defended their approach to it with vigour! RM is a bespoke activity, after all, and I often found myself trying to compare apples with pears: classifications, box sizes, terminology, service levels, views on external storage and security. On the positive side, consolidation of physical holdings was relatively straightforward; complicated, undoubtedly, but a primarily logistics task that needed lots of lists, labels, clipboards and people. There were no digital records in my merger world in 1995.
  3. 3. However, intellectual consolidation was (in 1995) a non-starter as both organisations depended on a wide range of paper finding aids, card indexes, embryonic databases and people know-how. Where they were in use, different schemes of arrangement and standards of description had been applied. There were widely different approaches to retention even in one heavily regulated industry. Unification of retention schedules was, it turned out, the first consolidation task to be attempted and that had to wait until the next merger. I am tempted to say that nothing had changed in 2000 and at the operational level, the same factors of duplication and difference applied. What sense did I make of all this? As a records manager, you need to be looking both ways at once. Strike a balance between planning for the future and managing the legacies – all of them. The aggregated accumulation of records and information from all parties in a merger presents an often large problem and it’s very easy to be labelled as the legacies expert. You won’t avoid that but it’s critical to get involved with planning the future. And in 2011 you must... Get connected. Get a laptop and a smartphone if you haven’t got one. Go to meetings and briefings; listen hard and talk to as many people as you can. Go to external meetings; connect with your external network; update your CV. Building your personal presence (your “brand”) is still a priority and now there are even more tools to do it: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Dive in there and give them a go. Read relevant blogs and post comments. Start your own if you’ve got enough to say. Clear out your office; keep only what you can use in the future; travel light. Make sure your passport and driving licence are up to date. Expect to be uncomfortable some of the time. If you manage a team, talk with them frequently and tell them everything you know. Listen to what they’re saying and agree with them what needs to be done to finish ongoing work and tie off loose ends. For the team’s sake, make sure you have a stand-in if you’re frequently away from the office. On the work front, many of the same basic tasks will need attention. In 2011, there will still be legacy issues. There will certainly be volumes of paper records to deal with. There may be storage contracts to harmonise or reconcile. Get on top of this. Engage third-parties to deal with hardcopy records4. Manage them closely and look for economies of scale. So, if you’ve skipped what I’ve written above, my top tips for getting though a merger, acquisition or closure are:
  4. 4. 1. Strike a balance between planning for the future and managing the legacies. 2. Get connected – talk, meet, build your brand. 3. If you manage a team, talk with them 4. Don’t waste time trying to join up systems, indexes, file plans, retention schedules – just move them all to wherever you’re going to be based 5. If you manage a team, structure it so that “new organisation” projects and “legacy” projects are clearly differentiated 6. “Legacy” projects are messy and need a lot of resource – be very selective about which you progress. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Being seen to get things done counts a lot early on. 7. Approve and apply a provisional retention schedule (or schedules) ruthlessly and be clear about what you are disposing or retaining. There will be time later to refine it 8. Engage useful people who might be leaving the organisation and harvest their know-how for future use 9. Promote information governance, assurance, and risk mediation to every group or individual willing to listen 10. Focus on policy consolidation and write new ones if you have to 11. Promote information architecture to IT and dig into the details of their processes and tools 12. Shift RM from doing to advising and project managing. ---------------------------------------------- John Davies ---------------------------------------------- 1 There are numerous sources identified for the set of quotations on the theme of change as a constant. These range from Heraclitus to La Rochefoucauld. Take your pick. The sentiment is the same. 2 Although they areoften used synonymously,the terms merger and acquisition mean different things. When one company takes over another and clearly establishes itself asthe new owner, the purchaseis called an acquisition. Amerger happens when two organisations agreeto go forward as a singlenew organisation rather than remain separately managed and operated. This kind of action is more precisely referred to as a "merger of equals". For any particularevent to be considered a merger or an acquisition really depends on whether the intent is friendly or hostileand how it is announced.In other words, the
  5. 5. real difference lies in how itis communicated to and received by the target organisation’s board of directors,employees and shareholders. 3 How we describeevents or problems shapes the way we respond to them. Mergers and similar events are not necessarily good or bad. Change: principles of problem formation and problem resolution by Paul Watzlawick and others (W.W.Norton, 1974) will changethe way you think aboutchange. 4 In 1995, Hays was the UK's largestrecords management company having purchased Rockall Scotia Resources in 1994. Iron Mountain only arrived in the UK in 1999 with the acquisition of BDM and then went on to buy the Information Management Services unit of Hays PLC in 2003.

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