10 leading information programs: 10 new insights for success: to be progressive and responsive, a RIM program needs more than a manager--it needs a leader. But what does it take to be an effective leader?
* describes 10 traits of an effective leader
* examines leadership challenges for RIM programs
Records and information management (RIM) programs need to be managed day-to-day to achieve results. But they also need to be led--transcending management techniques and providing implications of aspiration and achievement, growth and change, and transformation and progress. Some RIM programs are adequately managed--the work gets done satisfactorily every day--but are inadequately led and, therefore, are not really making progress and changing with the times.
Leaders set good personal examples, inspire shared vision, challenge processes, enable others to act, and encourage loyalty, initiative, and achievement through careful management of people, according to The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. Leaders are also change agents, moving programs ahead and pushing them to new heights of success. Leaders differ at least in degree from managers, whose primary responsibility is to get the work done through organizing and supervising people. Good leaders are known for their inclination toward transformation and progress, good managers for their ability to get things done. Of course, there is a compatibility between the two functions, and RIM program directors sometimes must play both roles. But understanding the role of leadership is helpful for the RIM field, which is surrounded by change and challenges, and for RIM programs, which often could benefit from expansion, change, and moving forward.
What does it take to successfully lead effective, responsive RIM programs? Actually, leadership in the field, with some exceptions, is not much different from leadership in other fields that are being buffeted by change, challenged to serve a diverse customer base with rising demands, and restricted by low or modest resources. The traits of leaders and leadership are continually analyzed, updated, interpreted, and presented in the literature as times and challenges change and the definition of success evolves. While not all experts, books, or conventional wisdom agree on the traits a leader must possess, several recently published books have identified and defined 10 key leadership traits, which are applicable to RIM.
Optimal Personal Characteristics
Leaders are not necessarily flashy, charismatic, or egotistical. Recent studies confirm that the more down-to-earth traits of steadfastness, energy, honesty, and integrity are what really count. According to Jim Collins' book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't, leaders of companies with sustained success "embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will." They are ambitious--but for their programs, not for themselves; they are often modest and self effacing; they are diligent ("more plow horse than show horse"); they credit others with success and blame themselves for failure; and they drive persistently for results.
People will respect and follow a leader only if they trust his or her integrity and ability and believe in him or her as a person. Leaders need well-developed, solid, steady personal characteristics.
In his book The Leadership Secrets of Collin Powell, Oren Harari notes that trust comes from looking attentively at a leader who
* is competent (has impressive skills and experience)
* has character (stands for something, has values)
* is courageous (takes principled stands, does not back down)
* is loyal to the program and its employees
* exudes confidence and optimism about the future
* displays selflessness and sacrifice for the good of the program
* is empathetic toward people
Personal Perspective and Distance
In a time of challenge and change, it is essential to keep on top of things day-to-day, yet it is also important to step back, take a breath, and achieve some perspective. It is like going to a dance, hearing the band, dancing with a partner, getting caught up in the moment, and seeing the action from a narrow vantage point. The dancer is engaged but lacks perspective.
But if the dancer had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, he might have seen a different picture. He would have seen all sorts of patterns. For example, he might have observed that when slow music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all. Returning home, he might have reported that participation was sporadic, the band played too loudly, and he only danced to fast music.
Achieving a balcony perspective means taking yourself out of the dance, in your mind, if only for a moment. The only way to gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing ourself from the fray, contend Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky in their book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading.
In RIM, this can be done by seeking information from many sources, attending professional conferences to hear flesh perspectives, looking at change over time, observing how the same development (i.e., introduction of a new technology) affects different people and offices in different ways, and keeping in touch with peer programs.
Heartfelt Commitment to Program and Work
In Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee write: "Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: great leadership works through emotions."
Leaders need the right psychological and emotional makeup--sometimes called emotional intelligence--to inspire and bring out the best in people. This is particularly important in RIM programs where human resources are essential and staffing levels are likely to be modest at best. According to Goleman, emotional intelligence may include the following:
* Self-awareness: emotional self-awareness, inclination toward self-assessment, high self-confidence
* Self-management: self-control, adaptability, natural optimism, initiative, high personal standards that lead to personal performance improvements
* Social awareness: the ability to be attuned to people's emotional signals, to feel the emotional makeup of the group, and to get along well with people of various backgrounds
* Organizational awareness: political savvy, ability to detect "crucial social networks and key power relationships"
* Relationship management: a broad repertoire of skills and abilities, including the ability to inspire, cultivate development of people, act as a change catalyst, manage conflict, and foster successful teamwork and collaboration
Good Judge of Character
Harari says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is arguably one of the most effective leaders of our time. One of his leadership tenets is careful selection of employees, particularly those slated for leadership positions. "Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners," advises Powell. "Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done."
Of course, RIM professionals and staff must be proficient in records management, information technology, information policy, legal and ethical issues, and myriad other aspects of modern information work. But leaders know that they must embody additional traits in order to succeed. Leaders spend a good deal of time on recruitment. They ensure that appropriate job criteria are prepared through searches performed and appropriate candidates identified. They ensure that managers follow prescribed processes and criteria for selecting staff. But they go beyond that when seeking key people, particularly managers and supervisors; they get involved themselves.
A strong theme in some of the recent literature stresses the leader's obligation in selecting people. According to Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossily and Ram Charan: "Having the right people in the right place [is] the job no leader should delegate," and it begins with careful selection. "If you look at any business that's continually successful, you'll find that its leaders focus intensely and relentlessly on people selection."
In seeking new employees, leaders look beyond academic background and intelligence to identify the subtler traits of versatility, adaptability, communications skills, inclination to partner, and yearning for personal growth over time. This means spending a good deal of time on fashioning employment ads and notices, carefully defining desired traits, and setting up a thorough interview and evaluation process to ensure that the person hired is not only competent but also is a good fit for the culture of the program. Leaders also work on development plans for employees to ensure that these new, carefully selected colleagues stay up to speed.
Ability to Inspire Change
In their book The Heart of Change: Real-life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations, John P. Kotter and Dan S. Cohen argue that leaders need to make people visualize an important problem in as concrete a way as possible; to reduce feelings that retard progress, such as complacency and pessimism, and replace them with positive feelings of passion, faith, pride, and urgency. They say leaders then can use this change of heart to transform behavior, move through a change process, and reach a desired outcome.
For example, a procurement department at a large company wanted to centralize purchasing processes to save money, but managers were not interested. The procurement project manager researched just one area, gloves ordered by the company, and found that there were 424 different types. He made a pile of one pair of each with the prices attached and put them on a conference table for division presidents to see. They were astounded, and that forced them to quickly agree to the changed procurement policies the manager had advocated. Kotter and Cohen note that the gloves then went on the road to all the company's division headquarters as tangible reminders of discredited past practices and new, efficient policies.
RIM program managers can take this lesson to heart and apply it in many ways: to help employees envision what a new program will look like, describe to customers the dramatic impact of good RIM, and to paint a picture of before and after the proposed changes.
Willingness to Partner with Customers
The traditional notion of RIM programs being apart from customers, serving them from a distance, and occasionally being at cross purposes with them (over minimum retention periods, for instance) is out-dated or at least not a good fit for the management realities of many companies and institutions today. The situation is more fluid than it used to be, particularly given the complexity of managing digital information and the necessity of individual employees managing information on their own computers and constantly making decisions about what to keep and what to discard. This necessitates and occasions shared responsibility between administrative offices and the organization's RIM program.
According to Emmett C. Murphy and Mark A. Murphy's book Leading on the Edge of Chaos: The Ten Critical Elements of Success in Volatile Times, modern leaders engage in two-way dialogue with customers--"moving outside the organization to bring the customer into a partnership with the organization ... the customer influences every single area in the organization and, therefore, every department must partner with customers ... Customer partnership is a shared journey to create a future for both parties that is better than either could have developed."
Partnering with customers means spending a good deal of time understanding their needs and working with them to help crystallize their unarticulated needs beyond their present and immediate future concerns. It means making partnership part of everyone's job description and responsibility, reaching out to potential customers (e.g., the ones who do not now take advantage of central RIM services and programs), reaching out to disaffected or lost customers, and offering new or refined products and services to meet constantly changing (and closely monitored) needs. Active customer partnership works for business; it is working for not-for-profit institutions such as professional associations and hospitals and, with slight modification, it is working for RIM programs as well.
Ability to "Prepare for a Future You Cannot Predict."
This phrase in Michael Hammer's book The Agenda: What Ever Business Must Do To Dominate the Next Decade, relates to the theme in insight 6: Issues will change, problems will vex, and opportunities will present themselves. The only way to approach this strategically is to build a highly adaptable program that "spots and reacts to significant change in practically the same breath." This means watching for signs of change, partnering with customers, becoming proficient in responding, remembering what worked and what did not, and having a fluid, responsive organizational structure. In many instances, it will mean discerning (or creating) order and patterns where there seem to be only noise and chaos.
In dealing with a particular issue, a RIM manager might go through a process that involves
* talking with customers
* calling on the creativity and insights of the RIM program's personnel
* assessing an opportunity or threat in terms of the program's plans and capabilities
* looking at how other programs are approaching the issue
* creating a strategy and business case
* assessing risks
* setting ultimate goals and along-the-way targets
* deciding on and moving ahead with a settled course of action
* measuring, reporting, and conducting a post-mortem to determine what worked, what did not, and why
From another perspective, Murphy and Murphy state that a leader needs to "cut through the noise"--analyze a particular issue and environment, seek advice, consider alternatives, make a decision and stick with it, and--most important--communicate to explain, clarify, make intentions obvious, clear up confusion, and keep everyone on course.
Ability to Grow the Program
Many RIM programs are too small to do the work expected of them. They need to change and keep up with the times, but, equally important in many cases, they simply need to get more resources and support. This needs to be done in numerous ways, incrementally, seizing opportunities, building success on success by demonstrating results and then appealing for more resources, sometimes taking half a loaf and then coming back for more. Collins compares it to moving a flywheel:
The flywheel image captures the overall led of what it was like inside the [successful] companies as they went from good to great. No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break ... Good to great comes about by a cumulative process--step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel--that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.
Measuring actual out comes and impact (rather than mere inputs) is an important approach to progress. This means, for instance, developing measures of customer satisfaction as opposed to, or in addition to, measures of inputs or process such as numbers of records cartons stored in a records center. It is particularly important in the RIM field, where information can seem like an abstract, amorphous, difficult-to-gauge concept.
Establish clear goals such as customer satisfaction; translate "overall goals into a manageable number of key measures" that are objective, timely, easy to under stand, and easy to calculate; establish target performance expectations such as customer satisfaction; put mechanisms in place to do the measuring; and constantly compare the reports with the goals. Hammer notes: "If all measures are achieving their targets, then all is well. If they are not, then we are in the domain not of measurement but of management and improvement."
Ability to Motivate
Once that is working well, an effective tactic may be to constantly raise the bar. Use the measuring system to constantly push the program upward. In New York City, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani brought a dramatic decrease in crime, in part, through setting clear performance indicators for crime reduction, daily analysis of crime statistics, and "using that data to hold each borough command's feet to the fire." As progress was made, the goals for reducing crime rates went up, creating a sense of competition among borough commanders (possibly the equivalent of RIM's divisions or service management teams), overall pride escalated, and customer (public) satisfaction increased.
Customize and Proceed with Confidence
There is definitely not a prescriptive, formulaic approach to leadership. Excellent precepts, models, and principles exist but, in the end, the right flavor for any RIM program depends upon the RIM professionals and the program's configuration, setting, and goals.
A RIM program may be adequately managed but inadequately led, and this can result in an ineffective program. Understanding the role of leadership is integral for RIM professionals because without leadership, a RIM program may remain stagnant and not make progress or change with the times. Today, more than ever, this is unacceptable. Leading an effective, responsive RIM program should be the goal of every RIM professional.
Leadership Advice for RIM Professionals
* Learn to lead. Leaders are made, not born, and leadership definitely can be learned. Thorough understanding of RIM techniques coupled with well-honed leadership skills is a winning combination. The strategies are straight-forward: read the best books and articles, take classes, go to seminars, seek out models, and keep growing.
* Draw on others. One of the most effective--and least-often used--leadership strategies is to consult other leaders (of peer RIM programs, for instance), draw out the insights of employees, try out ideas and potential solutions to problems on people you trust, and seek counsel from others.
* Find your comfort zone. Individual RIM leaders almost instinctively learn what works for them and what does not. They are not afraid to make decisions that may turn out to be mistakes; they regard mistakes as learning experiences. They capitalize on their strengths.
* Customize. A narrow set of leadership skills and tools is only marginally helpful; a broader set is more functional, enabling a RIM professional to choose the right approach for a particular set of circumstances.
* Follow your insights and instincts. Thorough understanding of RIM principles and practices coupled with well-developed leadership skills provide the basis for acting and directing others. Leaders have to take stands and make decisions; they should feel confident in doing so.
What Makes Leadership of RIM Programs Different?
Is leading records/information programs different from other leadership positions? There is a good deal of commonality, but also a few distinguishing differences:
* While we have vast literature and canons of good practice on RIM techniques, there is much less by way of descriptions of elements, benchmarks, and objectives for RIM programs. Leaders therefore need to devise their own program standards rather than rely extensively on professional literature.
* Leadership is under-represented in RIM literature. Articles are scarce, case studies on leadership and program development are few, and sessions at professional associations are rare. Again, leaders need to devise their own substantial information.
* Many program directors get to the top position by rising through the ranks. They are excellent RIM professionals but have not had the time to learn about or acquire leadership skills. Once they reach the top levels, it is even more difficult to find the time to do so.
* There is more ambiguity in RIM than in most fields (e.g., even defining what is meant by a record in a digital information arena can be challenging). The leader constantly has to answer the question: "What is our business?"
* Progressive programs are constantly in a state of flux. For instance, they grow from providing scheduling and records center services to defining new roles in a digital environment.
* Customer expectations may be changing, unclear, unrealistic, and too high. Part of the leader's task is to help crystallize expectations at the same time as his or her program tries to satisfy them.
* RIM programs are always part of on organizational hierarchy, so part of the leader's job is to relate to the people above. This necessitates having to explain in non-technical terms what RIM is and how it works, explaining budget requests in a manner that shows that the program financially contributes to rather than drains from the institution, and developing performance measures and reports that are convincing to executives who do not fully understand the issues.
* RIM work is important, but some aspects of it can easily seem routine, repetitive, and non-engaging. This presents a special challenge to keep employees motivated, engaged, and productive.
Bossily, Larry and Ram Charan. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York: Crown Business, 2002.
Cairncross, Frances. The Company of the Future: How the Communications Revolution Is Changing Management. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't. New York: Harper Business, 2001.
Giuliani, Rudolph W. with Ken Kurson. Leadership. New York: Hyperion, 2002.
Goleman, Daniel, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Hammer, Michael. The Agenda: What Every Business Must Do to Dominate the Next Decade. New York: Crown Business, 2001.
Harari, Oren. The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Heifetz, Ronald A. and Marty Linsky. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Kotter, John P. and Dan S. Cohen. The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge. 3d edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Murphy, Emmett C. and Mark A. Murphy. Leading on the Edge of Chaos: The Ten Critical Elements of Success in Volatile Times. New York: Prentice Hall, 2002.
Bruce W. Dearstyne, Ph.D., is a professor at the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, where he teaches in the area of archives and records management. His professional experience includes more than 25 years in the RIM field, and he has authored several books, including Management of Government Records and Information. He may be contacted at email@example.com.