Creating a Seat for Records Managers at the Executive Table

On a day to day basis work can be incredibly frustrating. Frequently it feels as though our best intentions and actions are being thwarted at every turn. We need assistance from other people or business units to successfully complete our work, but everyone else is so focused on what they are doing they offer very little support. And NO-ONE understands the importance of the work we do.

Yet, at whatever level we sit in our organisation around us there are colleagues who seem to operate free of this frustration. They rely on engagement with other business units too, but they seem to have no problem achieving it. People deliver them the information they need, and happily agree or acquiesce to their requests. Sure, some of them have sunny personalities, but for the main they are of a fairly standard balance temperament, and their success is not solely due to charisma.

What we do notice over the years is the rate of progress into positions of significant influence of this type of individual within an organisation. If we look closely at the business areas where they exert maximum influence we see a trail that meanders back through the areas they have been involved with over their career.

That is, they use their experience in solving issues in the business areas they have worked in as a source of influence, allowing them provide effective solutions to problems across the organisation. These cross functional experiences and the high levels of influence that accrue with them ultimately places them at the executive table.

If we cast our eyes across the executive tables of government entities across Australia, how many of those influential people have experience working within a records management unit?

At present, a role in records management is not the path to the executive table. Proficient recordkeepers rise to become system administrators or Records Managers. Capable Records Managers rise to become Information Managers. And that?s generally where the career path comes to a halt. From there any career progression is a result of moving between organisations whilst remaining within the records/information management stream.

There is a perception, and in many cases a reality, that Records Managers do not have the capability to add value at the most senior levels. Coupled with this, people experienced in the function of records management do not have a representative to fight for them at the executive table. IT, HR, Finance, Operations or Service Delivery, etc. do, but the people holding those representations never have records management experience in their past history, and thus there is no-one to ?manage? a Records Manager?s career who has a good understanding of the business value of records management and the necessary and transferrable skills a successful Records Manager possesses.

Just as the question is being posed on how to increase the representation of women in Parliament, the same question can be asked about records management. How do we increase the representation of records management at the executive level? The executive table needs to fairly represent the business, and whichever function records management sits under will have a place at the table. It could be IT, HR, Governance or Operations amongst others. A Records Manager, per se, sitting at the table is not a realistic objective to aim to achieve.

We need to look back at the career paths of other executives. The majority of them, over their career, have moved, as we discussed earlier, through a variety of business units, even within the same function. That career path provided them a variety of challenges; learning new skills and knowledge, working with different types of people, adding value to varied parts of the business. It broadened their understanding of alternative styles of operation, and the differing needs of varied types of customers, both external and internal. A particular trait of these people is that aforementioned ability to relate to different people and gain support.

As a general rule, records officers do not seek to take on positions in alternative business units. Records Managers do not set themselves the challenge of secondment to an equal level position in another business unit. They do not take the opportunities that arise to broaden their business knowledge, but elect to stay in their safe havens.

Certainly, and increasingly so, records units engage with business units and develop process knowledge. But in reality and in comparison to enacting a role, this experience is superficial.

The question may be asked of ?Do record management professionals have the capability of being executive level leaders in our major government organisations?? Or, do the traits that make a good records manager place limitations on achieving that career trajectory?

With my experience I can make a comparison between the executives within our major archival institutions where all members are drawn from career Records Managers, and other government departments. When I do, I see an equally capable group of people performing diverse roles. So, no, in my opinion records managers are not inherently limited in their capability.

Within the archival institutions such as National Archives, records management capability is respected and seen as criteria to cross functional promotion or secondment. Expansion of skills is encouraged and supported. However, in ordinary government departments, senior managers are not looking to records management when talent spotting and records managers are not self-promoting their capability.

Next time you?re looking to extend your career think about the value to your knowledge and capability a lateral career change or secondment would make. That way, we are more likely to see more ex-Records Managers with a seat at the executive table.

Send a Comment

Your email address will not be published.