I recently saw a commercial for the show “Hoarders,” which depicts the real-life struggles of people who suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder. Each hour-long episode profiles two people on the verge of a personal crisis, all caused by the fact that they are unable to part with even the tiniest possessions, and the cumulative effect becomes a mountain of junk and garbage overtaking their home or apartment.
It occurred to me that organizations have a similar hoarding problem when it comes to documents, which is amplified by the number of employees who keep copies and versions regardless of what kind of archival tools or records retention program is in place. After putting hours of effort and consideration working on, let’s say, a 35-page assessment and formal proposal, you can bet that most folks tuck an extra copy away on their hard drive or a file share somewhere…and probably print out a paper copy too, just to be safe.
Sense of Ownership
That sense of ownership and the desire to avoid reinventing the wheel makes perfect sense, but all those hoarded documents have a downside because the information can pose an unseen risk to the organization. And the liability grows when people have a “keep everything” approach to records management, especially as the volume, velocity, and variety of content that every organization must manage continues to grow and evolve in this age of Digital Transformation.
Just Keep Everything
While digital transformation may seem like it’s all about collecting more and more data, the truth is not all data is good data and there is a great deal of liability for the company when it over-retains. For example, not having visibility into what an employee saves is a cause for concern, because you don’t know what type of information is being preserved by the employee and whether or not it falls within a proper retention schedule. And if they are holding onto a record for a longer period of time than they need to – regardless of the company retention policy – that information is still subject to disclosure through discovery, or any type of compliance audit, or other types of regulatory and legal proceedings.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Information security and data loss prevention (DLP) is also a pressing matter, especially as the number of cyber incidents continues to rise. If documents are hoarded by employees, organizations lack visibility into critical facts such as what is being over-retained, where it is being stored, who has access rights, and the appropriateness of the security applied to the content. If past incidents played out before the public is any indication, the hidden information represents a treasure trove of data for hackers looking for security loopholes.
Costs and Risks
The costs and risks are substantial, including fines for over-retention of certain documents and information (e.g., personal data). There are litigation costs that come into play through e-discovery and very real exposure in court by virtue of what you are now compelled to disclose. Additionally, the harm to the organization’s reputation, loss of public trust, and impact on current and future business opportunities cannot be discounted.
It’s one thing to point out a problem and another to do something about it. Here are three best practices to consider:
The first step is communication and putting records management top of mind with every employee. It is important to set the expectation that everyone will follow through with the retention schedule and preserve documents according to the records management and other related corporate policies and guidelines. It is important to review corporate policies and guidelines from different departments (e.g., information security, IT, privacy, etc.) and assure alignment to address potentially conflicting information.
Next step is training; not just at the time of new employee onboarding, but continuous refreshers along the course of the employees’ time at the company. As records management is reiterated and encouraged the tendency to hoard tends to fade from the mindset of the employees as it becomes second nature in the execution of their everyday tasks.
Make it Easy
Let’s face it, if the systems and procedures to properly save and archive records are hard to use, and people are not comfortable using and trusting the system, they will simply revert back to their old hoarding habits. Make it easy by using an automated process and reducing the number of steps for employees to follow where possible.
When it comes to information governance and successful adoption, the focus needs to extend beyond just the technology and account for work culture and employees’ mindset. You can change that hoarding mentality through awareness, common-sense training, and implementing systems that make it easier for employees to comply with the organization’s information governance policies and guidelines.
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Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on Information Governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.