As a records management consultant I’ve been able to observe the financial ups and downs that many of my clients have been dealing with over the last couple of years. It’s tough out there – for everyone – not just records managers. With a U.S. unemployment rate of about 9.7% as of March, 2010 and an even higher unemployment rate in my home state of Florida, where its seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February 2010 was 12.2%, representing 1.1 million people jobless out of a labor force of 9.2 million. This is the highest it has been in 15 years.
And, no industry segment is immune from economic challenges. Even with a slow recovery, layoffs continue to be inevitable for many businesses with for-profits, non-profits, private companies, public companies and government agencies ALL getting equally squeezed.
A records management professional should always have the following strategic steps in mind no matter what state the economy is in but without taking action on your own behalf your career and livelihood could be in even more jeopardy during tough times.
This guide focuses on the 8 steps to take while you still have a job and want to keep it.
1: Protect the Base
In good times some people get lackadaisical with submitting invoices to clients or just renewing contracts with suppliers without fully examining the value of the relationship. Get all monies owed now – yours and the company’s. This means submit your expense reports on time, and track your department’s budget for leaking expenses.
Monitor your company’s or agency’s financial performance if you can. Is the organization behind or ahead of budget? Some people have an, “I’m too busy to worry about this” attitude about knowing what their company’s financial performance is. None of this information should be for public consumption but should give YOU a barometer of where things are headed.
Re-negotiate contracts with suppliers especially if you are using outside records storage services or outsourcing services to manage your records. Many providers would rather negotiate than lose you as a client. Depending on the volume of business you do with them, you may be able to cut your monthly storage costs by several percentage points.
This may also be the impetus to start the compliant destruction program that should be in place anyway. Clear out old records that should have been destroyed years ago (provided they aren’t under a legal or audit hold at the moment). Your company or agency is paying for that space and although compliant destruction can cost money it can save storage costs in the long-term.
By the way, when you go through the destruction phase, re-cycle where you can. Paper clips, rubber bands, binders, file folders (with labels and indexes removed) can be recycled and reused internally.
In general, know what the “burn rate” is – yours and the company’s. How much expense do you burn through on a monthly basis in order to live comfortably? Can that be reduced? How much savings are you burning through to maintain that lifestyle? Put together a plan to reduce your own burn rate and your department’s so that you can survive when the revenues slow down or if you have to take a pay cut or, even worse, lose your job.
2: Know What You’re Worth
Does your salary conjure up “value” in the eyes of internal management? Does your management know what you are doing? If not, make sure they do. Of course, you must first measure your internal value in order to do this. What kind of cost savings do your records management activities produce on an annual basis? Is your department considered overhead or do you provide revenue enhancement activities such as producing records for paying clients and citizens? Are your records management activities cutting down on expensive legal discovery costs for both analog and digital records and have you worked to make this process less painful and costly for the organization?
For example, are records languishing in off-site storage that should be destroyed? What is that costing? Are supplies being recycled when they can be? Are you doing all you can to make the organization’s record keeping activities and processes as cost-effective and productive as possible?
Ask yourself, “If I had to bill for my time, would anyone pay for it?” If the answer is no, then get moving to change that answer.
3: Know What’s Going On
Records Managers should always be aware of what other departments are doing because they should be actively engaging different constituencies to manage and organize their information according to appropriate internal standards. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you “really” know what’s going on.
Have conversations with people in other departments. Whether that is a scheduled activity or an informal cafeteria discussion depends largely on the culture of your organization. Take the “grapevine” seriously – the grapevine is usually about 90% right. If things are going downhill fast at least you will be prepared to move on to the next challenge.
This is also a great time to look for opportunities to be valued among other departments. Listening to their challenges can give you an opportunity to work together to address some of their information management needs. Your value to the organization should extend outside of your own department.
4: Market Internally
Make sure people know what you are accomplishing. Many people assume that their activities are public knowledge. Unfortunately, most people need to be reminded of the value you can bring to the company. There are several approaches you can take to “market” yourself internally and what you do depends largely on the scope of your activities and the culture within the company.
Minimally you can create status reports for your managers so that they recognize what you are doing and / or you can create an internal newsletter to educate and engage others about how you’ve helped others and how you can help them. Always include metrics such as space saved, dollars saved, processes improved, etc. for your internal clients.
The bottom line is to make sure other departments see records management as a asset – not an encumbrance
5: Increase Your Professional Standing
In order to be seen as valuable to others you have to value yourself and present yourself as the expert in your field – in this case, Records Management. One way to do that is to get certified or acquire professional designations such as, a CRM, CIPP, ERMs or ERMp or CDIA+. These certifications and designations generally will take more of your own time and money to acquire but help to signal your commitment and professional status in the industry.
If you have the skills you can write articles for journals or magazines which give you visibility outside your own organization and may provide a “fan” base if you need to look elsewhere for another job. You can also participate or create an industry-related blog, as long as this is not prohibited by your present employer.
Finally, presenting at industry seminars or events can help you to establish your presence as an industry expert. Providing educational seminars can also help you achieve some of the certifications mentioned above and help to establish links with other companies should you need to find another job in the future.
6: Network with Others in the Profession
Some people think of networking as a job hunting activity. It can be helpful to do if it comes to that but networking is an activity that can provide a way to share and bounce ideas off of other people that you respect and trust. And, with online tools such as LinkedIn with special groups already in place for ARMA (www.arma.org), and AIIM (www.aiim.org) members you have an opportunity to get into the mix without having to travel or go to expensive conferences. Even Facebook has become a place to maintain business relationships on a less formal basis.
Membership in Professional Associations and Societies such as ARMA and AIIM continues to be a useful way to network with peers and in addition to the online networking opportunities local chapter meetings and seminars are a great way to meet face-to-face with others in the industry. Admittedly, some chapters have larger memberships than others but in networking it’s not the quantity of relationships you have but the quality that counts. Having a local network of peers is sometimes more useful that having a far-flung set of friends, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.
No matter what form of networking you undertake you need to hone the “elevator pitch.” You should be able to describe who you are, who you represent and what you do in 30 seconds or less. If you have a hard time explaining what you do it will be even harder for other people to understand it. One of the missions in networking is communicating the value you bring in terms of your skills and knowledge.
7: Be Flexible
Too often Records Managers are seen as the enforcers. And in some cases that role definitely needs to be played from a point of strength. But there are times when the situation is not one that demands enforcement but one of working together to sort out what needs to be done with certain classes of records, where a discovery order demands immediate action or a constituent is looking for a record that may take some substantial time to find. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to helping in these situations and working together with others to get things done – even if it will take extra effort on your part to get it done.
Make your records management expertise extensible to other areas such as during an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) implementation. Welcome the chance to support the management of electronic documents and find ways to set compliant processes and procedures for new breeds of records that are emerging such as blogs, wikis and social media communications.
8: Prepare for the Worst
Even with the best of efforts you may not be able to keep your job. In times like these it happens even to the best of workers. Having an “ostrich in the sand” attitude of ignoring the signs is no excuse for not being prepared.
Do your best to start saving cash – one month’s salary for every $15,000 you make or at least 3 months’ salary.
Use your benefits – medical savings, dental, etc. – while you still can. Get that physical you’ve been too busy to schedule – NOW.
Update your resume on your own home computer not on the company PC. That will be quickly taken away should you suddenly lose your job.
Get recommendations posted on your LinkedIn Profile now while people are still working with you and your accomplishments are still fresh in their minds.
Get a new suit while you still have the money. If you are on the interview trail the business casual attire you normally wear to work will not be appropriate.
Research what severance options may be available to you now before you are laid off so that you can discuss your options calmly, rationally and from an informed perspective, when the time comes.
Don’t allow yourself to be mistreated. Unfortunately, this economy has bred more abusive bosses who are assuming that employees are less likely to leave at this time of economic uncertainty. If you are being subjected to this kind of treatment the time may be right to leave even before anyone lays you off. There are good Records Management positions out there but you have to do your homework to get them. And, if you can’t leave, document what is going on so that you have a record of the abuse should you need to take the situation to Human Resources or, if necessary, a lawyer.
It’s definitely a challenging time for all records managers and, yet, there are so many reasons that the profession is more necessary than ever before. With increased government compliance requirements, ever increasing litigation support requirements and the massive proliferation of electronic information the records manager has an great opportunity to highlight their value to the organization. Make your organization see that you are an even greater asset than they even realize by addressing these issues in a positive way.