Your Destruction Policy: You Either Have a Retention and Disposition Policy or You Don’t

The Records Guru®

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One of the most difficult tasks that every information governance (IG) program must deal with is getting rid of information assets that have exceeded the retention schedule. This is particularly true at the beginning of a program, when people are being asked to give up on “their stuff” or think disposition is too big a task to take on when there are more important things to do. Everyone goes through this stage. But if the retention schedule says it’s time to go, it has to go. Otherwise you don’t have a defensible destruction policy and can face legal jeopardy.

Getting rid of redundant, obsolete and trivial (ROT) information is everyone’s job. Establish a departmental coordinator to assist staff with compliance. Fortunately, technology now automates much of the identification and deletion process. Using automation technology, based on your records and retention schedule, is increasingly common and essential. The 2016-2017 Cohasset Associates and ARMA International Information Governance Benchmarking Survey reports that over half of participating organizations have either established or prioritized automated deletion initiatives, though only 16% characterize their organizations’ automated deletion processes as “mature.”

If your organization doesn’t have a collaboration site, create a departmental central file so that everyone can access what they need to do their job. Collaboration is better for business because it improves everyone’s daily processes and saves time, as well as storage costs. This sharing of knowledge is one of the hidden benefits of IG. There’s always someone who knows everything about some vital business process that would be at risk if they were suddenly to leave. Succession planning is part of IG, too!

Remember that at the initial phase of your destruction policy, you can’t just have people clearing out their files and throwing them into the shredder. You need a legally defensible disposition process in case you’re ever called before a judge to explain what you did to destroy a file that may have been requested in some far-off case. The key to the entire process lies in your departmental coordinator’s knowledge of the type of record you’re deleting. They’re responsible for signing a letter or certificate of destruction — another record type — that authorizes a shred vendor to complete the process.

Once your initial purge is completed, maintaining your destruction policy is easier thanks to the decreased volume of records you have to review. It’s not necessarily a fun process, but it’s worth it in the end.

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