[2.5 Minute Read or Listen Below]
How often do you think about systematically removing information from your physical and digital files?
Several years ago, I worked with a local manufacturing company after a new HR Director came in. She hired me to conduct an Office Renewal Event. During this event, a team has the time, permission, and resources to eliminate anything from the workspace that can be tossed, recycled, shredded, or deleted.
The small HR department had numerous file cabinets filled to capacity. They felt their options were to buy more cabinets they didn't have room for or send boxes to offsite storage. With this in mind, we specifically targeted the elimination of paper. In the process,
By the end of the 2-day event, we securely disposed of 562 pounds of paper. That is the equivalent of just under 13 cartons of copier paper. And, from what we understand, the prior HR Director had already shredded several banker's boxes of documents in the days before she left. The oldest item we found was a typewritten letter, on onion skin paper, from November 1968. All of this came from one department within the company, and we didn't even touch their digital files.
That Office Renewal Event uncovered several gaps in their record retention practices. There was wasted space inside the file cabinets as they held information the team would never access again. Over several years, a considerable sum of money was wasted purchasing more file cabinets while the current cabinets housed decades-old documents. Most recently, the company spent unnecessary money to reprint, stuff, and mail pension statement while the originals were there the whole time. Looking for critical information like the missing employee file is an example of time and energy waste.
A system for information management with triggers for timely document purging, destruction, and archiving could have eliminated all this waste. How can you get started? Follow these steps for both your paper and digital files.
First, always work with your legal counsel and financial advisors to create a solid information retention framework. It can be very costly to eliminate something you need, but it can also be dangerous to keep what you don't. In some cases, when auditors come knocking, they may be allowed to access any documents you currently have, even those outside regulated retention dates.
Second, build strategies to trigger document removal. Once you know your retention framework, you can more easily implement strategies. It could mean adding a deletion date to the filename for digital files. For paper documents, it may mean storing documents by year. If paper documents are conveniently file indexed, this segregation strategy is less important, as documents are easy to locate and retrieve.
Third, maintenance is crucial! Set aside time every year to take action on your strategy. An additional, essential maintenance element is periodically reviewing your retention guidelines and strategy with your counsel and advisors.
Statistics indicate 80% of what we keep, we never use. How much are you spending to store paper and digital information you don't need? My guess is a whole lot more than you should.
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