10 September 2009

"In Search of Objectivity" or "Listening to Those We Often Ignore"

Last week, an unexpected overlap “slapped me upside the face”: A prime challenge of corporate Records & Information Management matched current events, political opinion and social tumult.

First the RIM part: The Records Director of a large financial services corporation called to ask for help implementing an enterprise RIM program. Apparently, the program is well written, comprehensive, and ready to deploy. But that is only half the battle. The implementation is beyond the RIM staff’s resources. Gaining acceptance, investment, and full participation is daunting. Rolling out the new program requires, among other things, advocacy, diplomacy, education, training and – above all else – effective communication.

This RIM program will only meet its goals if it receives universal endorsement or, minimally, grudging participation. Clearly, top officers and directors need their records managed, but so do the mail clerks, couriers, and temp workers. Everyone needs to pull together.

Knowing human nature, I am sure some people will resent and resist participating in RIM. Some won’t want to be bothered. VIPs may feel they are exempt. Many will find the change unsettling, difficult, and offering scant improvement for seemingly painful effort.

For a successful launch, the Records Manager and staff will need to interpret their efforts to all participants in the language of the staff members. But at least as important, the RIM staff will have to listen to the conflicting views. The RIMmers will have to consider the issues their efforts raise and evaluate the objections. They may need to use carrots and sticks to get cooperation, but most important, they will need to listen to the concerns and fears of workers at all levels of the corporation. Constructive criticism and program adjustments may contribute to success.

How does this overlap with current events? Last week I attended a family reunion. There, relatives from the generation before and after mine asserted opinions that they declared The Political Truth. My problem was that they based their conclusions on information from sources from only one end of the political spectrum. Their exposure to the day’s news and its interpretation all came from the same brand of talk radio, cable news, and print journalism. In fact, a single man owned most of their news media.

These relatives asserted their right to claim objectivity without exposing themselves to dissenting opinions. They claimed to know what the other side supported, but that “knowledge” all came through reading/listening to their one-sided favorites.

I assert that there is value in hearing both sides of an issue. No one gets it right all the time. We need to challenge our views by considering them in the light of opposing conclusions. Without abandoning our values, we need to consider how the advocacy from “the other side” relates to what we hold dear.

Information and reasoned opinion – as opposed to demagoguery – are always valuable. They enhance and inform our thoughts and actions. They may even contribute to or temper our strategies and tactics. It is important and valuable to listen to those who hold opposing values or practice divergent thought processes.

When rolling out a RIM program, RIMmers cannot afford to roll over objectors and their objections. RIMmers need to listen, consider, possibly adjust plans, and in all cases, give full credence to those who don’t want to change their records management practices (or lack thereof).

Successful RIM is dependent upon full cooperation and participation in an organization, from top to bottom and everywhere in between. Technology people, Legal people, Finance people, Operations people, and those from other departments may all make valuable contributions to a RIM program during both construction and implementation.

RIM professionals are subject matter experts, but they are not know-it-alls. They need not be spineless or appeasers, but they do need to listen to and consider all opinions. When RIMmers listen, their programs improve.