Note: I have been called Chicken Little, but having dealt with floods, steam pipes bursting, bugs, theft, and records being destroyed or discarded, sometimes it is worth listening to Chicken Little!
It is recommended that companies and organizations have a records management survey conducted to determine what should be kept for one year, seven years (for example, tax records), 10 years, or permanently, no matter what the format. But once is not enough. They should be updated when the organizational structure has changed, or the company merges with another, and even every few years if no major changes occur. A survey of each department should lead to a records management schedule, which will list what should and must be kept, and for how long.
The following are suggestions on what to keep, as well as some suggested rules in regards to records management:
What should your business keep permanently?
- Incorporation papers and all legal documents still extant
- Annual reports (four of each)
- Human resources manuals and benefit information for employees
- Historical information, such as photographs and copies of newspaper and magazine articles about your business
Even with all of today’s technological advances, when computers are updated, it may not be possible to read older documents. Back-up servers can have a problem, or even go out of business. Paper documents are still readable hundreds of years later—can you say that about a computer file or external hard drive? If possible, keep your most important paper records at another site such as a document storage company, or in a bank vault.
How to train your employees about records management
It is not uncommon for people to clean out their desks and filing cabinets without asking what should be kept. Employees should be told:
- Do not throw out any records without permission.
- Decisions about what to keep should be made by department heads and lawyers and accountants, based on standard records management procedures and laws (such as those regarding taxes).
- All employees should be provided with a list of records to be kept permanently, for five years, seven years (fiscal/tax) and 10 years. This should be in manual and part of new employee orientation.
- When an employee leaves the company, ask them to make a list of their paper files and give the list to the head of their department. Any records not relevant for their replacement can be taken to the main filing area if needed.
As for e-mail records, that is more difficult and decisions have to be made given the amount. I suggest keeping on hard drive those dealing with policy decisions, requests for funding, changes in employee "rules," and board minutes, and photographs and gala information as well as backed-up on a server and external drives.
Lastly, it must be decided what should be removed from an office in the event of a disaster, if possible. Sometimes Chicken Little could be on the mark!
Phyllis Barr is president of Corporate Culture Marketing by Barr Consulting Services, which helps companies leverage their history and heritage. She can be reached at email@example.com.