Lead by example, forget about the credit…

We’re all well aware that labor intense records management projects, those in which repetitive, mundane grunt work is required, are avoided like the plague by employees and management alike. When a project does happen to spark interest and garner support, once it moves past the planning stages it can begin to feel like nobody on the team wants to be bothered with the actual logistics. Suddenly everybody is a “thought leader” and “focused on strategy” and that’s okay… but maybe that’s where some of our productivity issues actually originate. 

Ironically, what can emerge from these projects are new leaders, because these are also opportunities for individuals willing to actually roll up their sleeves. These are people who drive initiatives and projects forward because they’re more interested in getting the job done and learning something than getting (or taking) the credit.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish with pride and unselfishness—where you have people who don’t care who gets the credit. – Harry Truman

As knowledge workers we are supposed to naturally evolve and graduate into more sophisticated roles but more and more of us are also becoming out of touch with basic business operations, assuming technology will ultimately address all of the tedious processes we’re responsible for.  Many employees, even in the public sector, have simply become used to expecting management to throw more money at the problem or to bring in consultants (who will probably just hire temps) to catch everybody up… instead of addressing the real issues. Perhaps, it’s as John Steinbeck once remarked, that we’re all “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” and that in the same vein, by performing grunt work, we are negatively impacting the way we’re viewed by both our superiors and those who report to us. That may be partly true. As Records and Information Management leaders and executives we don’t want to take a step backward, but there is a lot to be said for staying familiar with, remaining involved in and practicing the discipline which you claim to have expertise.

There is a lot to be said for staying familiar with, remaining involved in and practicing the discipline which you claim to have expertise.

As a Certified Records Manager and an Information Governance Professional, I have worn a number of hats in my career, from file clerk to analyst to program director to marketing brochure stand-in. The reason I think I’ve been successful in each of these roles is because while I don’t say yes to everything, I don’t say no either, even if I consider the task below my pay grade.  If I can learn something from a particular job, even if it is tragically boring, I’m going to do it and be better off for it.  If rolling up my sleeves and going through old boxes is going to help to quickly gain the respect of those I’m training and supervising, I’ll certainly sacrifice a little of my time for that, leading with instruction and by example.

You can apply this age old technique to almost any project, no matter how physical or technical. We can’t forget our main roles and responsibilities as managers, directors, and VP’s… but the only way to maintain familiarity with our profession is to see our knowledge applied firsthand, in context. As Records and Information Managers sometimes we need to be guiding policies from 10,000 feet and sometimes we need to take more granular perspectives.

We need to remain familiar with the problems we’re facing, intimately, so that our ideas stay fresh, so that we remember the principles that have worked for us, so that we get our teams to the finish line.

If you want to implement SharePoint but you’re not getting much help from IT then pick up a book and learn how to build your own portals, sites and libraries. Bring something to the table! If you can’t get any of your department heads to make decisions on purging data, get more details and come back with the accuracy and confidence in you that they need to say “Yes, get rid of it!” One of the great perks of our careers is that the evolving nature of information requires us to stay current on best practices, to build on our skill sets and keep learning. That only happens when you dedicate time to having hands-on experience in the field, not just in the boardroom and not just behind your computer screen.

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