The Psychology of Records Management: Energize Compliance with Clear and Doable Requirements

Craig Grimestad

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Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who is trying to instruct you on what to do, but ends up confusing you with multiple options? Or there is one hour available to do a task and you are given a task that would take many hours of work? OK, so what do you really want me to do? Do you sometimes feel like screaming: “I can’t do what you want, if I don’t know what you want”! Instructions need to be clear and doable in the time allotted.

In the Information Governance (IG) world, we call these instructions “requirements”, and they are essential to an efficient, well-run program.

Many companies do not do a good job of establishing clear and doable requirements in their policies and procedures. Terms like “should” instead of “shall” pepper the documents. It may seem like a triviality in wording, but it actually makes all the difference in the world. When you ask someone if they are doing what they “should” be doing, and the answer is no, their response might also include their rationale – “Well it didn’t say I had to, so I didn’t do it.”, or “Well it didn’t say I had to, so I’m doing it a different way that is better for me.”. Commonly this leads to time wasting discussions about what was intended, why the “should” way is the preferred solution, and why the company cannot have every employee choosing to perform this task (and by extension every task) a little differently. Using command language with words like “shall” and “must” provides clear requirements and improves operational efficiency by keeping the organization’s energy focused on accomplishing requirements.

Companies have also asked their workforce to perform tasks in compliance with IG / RIM Policy that they simply cannot do. Sometimes it is simply a lack of knowledge of how to accomplish the task that can be remedied by training. Other times the problem is more problematic, being associated with structure, tools or technology availability – eg, are there ‘official repositories’ set up for workers to place their records in? – not to mention capacity – eg, are the workers allowed sufficient time to accomplish the task? Whatever the issue or issues, workers are hesitant to move forward in accomplishing a task that they do not perceive as doable. They are not willing to spend their precious time on something that appears to have little or no chance of success and will waste their time.

Actions to provide clear requirements and to show that tasks can be readily accomplished are key enablers for success. If you mean to be specific, be specific. If you mean to allow for options, identify the options. If someone comes up with a better way, change the requirement. Consider breaking down large tasks into smaller pieces or steps, where each step is seen as clearly doable. Compliance is energized when tasks are clear and success is assured.

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