Thursday, September 27, 2007

"How come if you know so much stuff, you can't do 6th grade math?"

Thus were uttered words of wisdom from the ten year old who lives in my house.

Context: A couple weeks ago, we were working out her 5th grade math homework assignment (word problems still tend to cause my brain to turn to jelly) and I made the offhand comment that she was on her own after 6th grade for math problems. (Actually, the wheels come off early into Algebra, but I wanted to exceed her expectations down the road -- and besides, Algebra seems to show up earlier and earlier.

Anyway, we were in the car and I had just spent the better part of ten minutes walking my wife through the ins and outs of Workers' Comp claims. She was a bit dazed by the information download and asked me how I knew all that stuff... "You'd be amazed at what I pick up from dealing with records all day." She was... and then the title of the post was heard from the peanut residing in the gallery called the back seat.

That caused me to reflect upon my day. Earlier in the day, I had done just about the same thing to an IT manager. She came in to my office wanting what she perceived to be a simple answer to a simple question, "We're imaging contracts. Can we toss the paper?" Well, as many of you might know, that can yield the inevitable "it depends" answer, which is then followed by 20 to 30 questions about the imaging process, the nature of the records, the attitudes of the records owners, and the current state of litigation involving the records. I had way more questions than she had answers. That was the first dazed look of the day that I received.

Now this isn't intended to be a "see how smart I am" post. Rather, I think it points out the many things that the records management professional brings to the table. There are just an incredible number of issues and skillsets that you master over time in this profession. Records are the common thread between all parts of an organization. The best part of being a Records Manager is getting to see every nook and cranny of the organization (often, quite literally). If you do this job well (and correctly), you're able to put a lot of the pieces together. And if you pay attention, you might even learn something.

This past afternoon, I had the opportunity to get a sneak peak at ARMA's long-awaited Records and Information Management Core Competencies document (the Competencies will be officially released during the ARMA Conference in Baltimore). I poked around the document for a few minutes, looking at the incredibly detailed body of knowledge that records professionals at various stages of professional growth should know.

You know what? We need to know a lot of stuff. My sense and concern, however, is that many records professionals may be challenged and discouraged when they crack open that nearly 90 page PDF document. If you happen to be one of those folks, don't be discouraged. Look at the competencies as a roadmap. When you have a roadmap in hand, you can see ALL of the paths to your destination. Furthermore, what you will have is a standardized way to measure yourself and your position against other professionals and their positions. One of the big challenges that we have had in this profession is the inconsistency of job titles and job descriptions. Guess what? You will be able to build a standard job description and set of responsibilities from the Competencies document. And, in 2008, you'll be able to go online and perform a self-assessment against the Competencies.

Over time, it is my hope that the HR world will be able to adopt the Competencies to help classify positions in their organizations. The Competencies will also, hopefully, tie directly into the US Standard Occupational Classification listings for records professionals, if we are successful in getting additional professional positions listed. Lastly, we're also now in the position of being in a place where we can do proper salary surveys for the profession, since we now have standard definitions of the level of responsibility, knowledge, and competence required at various stages of the career ladder. These are extraordinary opportunities for ARMA and for the profession.

One of the messages that I want to make certain that people hear when we talk about the Competencies is the fact that these were developed through an extraordinarily rigorous process over two years. This process had every bit of the rigor of an ANSI or ISO Standard. More than 300 subject matter experts contributed to the production of the Competencies. These individuals work in a wide variety of industries and roles. Without their efforts, the Competencies would not have been developed. All of us owe them an incredible amount of gratitude.

Going forward, ARMA will directly tie our educational offerings and Bookstore to the Competencies. If you need to fill a gap, you should be able to readily identify an educational offering, publication, or article that will deliver the information that you need to close the gap.

I'm really excited about the Competencies. If you're a records management professional, I encourage you to set aside some time during October to download a copy of the Competencies and start checking off the elements that describe you -- as well as the elements that describe where you want to be. Use the Competencies to create your own roadmap. Use them to create your own goals for development. I really think that you will benefit from the exercise.

There are things that many of us will never master -- in my case, advanced mathematics and foreign languages -- but through ARMA International's Records and Information Management Core Competencies, we all have the opportunity to identify what we know, as well as what we want to know.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

College in the 21st Century

I'm kinda glad that it took me 20 years to finish my Master's Degree (it's an MA in Public History from Loyola University of Chicago). I started my degree at the dawn of the personal computer revolution. When I started, all I had was a correcting typewriter (it would remember everything from the last "Return") -- and that seemed like as high-tech as could be. I was a year full-time, then I started working when I found an internship at the Illinois State Archives. I haven't stopped working since. I had all the classroom work finished by the time my oldest daughter came along, but the program had two exams to pass, plus a Master's Essay. I passed the Public History exam and finally finished my paper, but couldn't get past the "field exam" (this was an exam on the literature of your "real history" concentration -- in my case, 20th century American Urban History). Unfortunately, when I took the exam, I had let the literature leak out of my ears and the prof who gave the exam wasn't someone I had studied under. It was a very bad day. So I let ten more years elapse until the day that I was surfing the Loyola website. I noticed that the "field exam" was no longer part of the degree. So I tried to petition my way to the degree. Well, in true Chicago fashion, we struck a deal -- take three classes in three semesters, get a "B" or better and they'd turn over the sheepskin. My employer paid 85% of the freight and the rest was history.

That long story is prelude to my musings tonight -- education has moved forward considerably. In the mid-80's, you went to the library, leafed through the card catalog and maybe browsed some shelves when you wanted something. You might be able to search for some books on a computer, but it was generally in the inner sanctum of the librarians. So that tended to mean that you were limited to what you local library had -- or what you might get days or weeks later through Inter Library Loan.

The Internet changed all that. I could sit at home in the evening (or middle of the night) and browse the college library's card catalog. I could order books from another campus and have them delivered to my "home" campus. I could search for Inter Library Loan items, order them, and find out when they had arrived. I could download journal articles and dissertations. A huge amount of resources were available to me, 24 x 7. I tend to think that my work product was much better than when I would wander the stacks. Toss in a computer with modern word-processing software and I suspect that I was not only more efficient, but wrote better when i could easily draft and re-draft. (As an undergrad, I thrived on "one take" papers -- I never have learned how to type properly and therefore was fairly slow, so I would compose my paper at the keyboard and would have to get it right the first time. A computer would have been worth several tenths on my GPA, I have to suspect.)

So I understand how technology has impacted learning -- for the better, I would think.

Anyway, my daughter is going to be a CA (Community Assistant -- or "RA" to many of us old-timers) at school this year. I'll rant later on how that (doesn't) impact the financial aid package. We were talking last night about what she is learning. Now most of us would think that being an RA means learning the rules and knowing who to call when there is an emergency. It seems to be far more than that. Sure they get those items, but they also get some lectures on law, counseling, behavior, psychology, and race relations. They have to know how and when to refer people for all sorts of things ranging from quasi-criminal issues to pregnancy or rape to drug and alcohol abuse, to depression and suicide. It scared me to hear all this stuff. The cool part (once I get past the freaked out parent issues) is that she's going to walk away with some great experience in working with people at challenging times (hopefully not too much experience) and working as a team with the other RAs in her building. That should be invaluable experience for her.

I know that I had an unusual college experience. I didn't experience much at the edges of life. I know very few people who partied too much or messed themselves up in college. I'm sure that people had issues that had to be dealt with. But it will be an interesting journey to see all this through my daughter's eyes. She lived in a very tame dorm last year and the one she has this year has a party-hardy rep.

This year will be interesting -- and will probably make me appreciate this kid in my life all the more.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dear Mr. Dell...

In a previous post, I mentioned that we were having some issues getting a Dell Inspiron laptop. Well, August 31 came and a new "estimated ship date" was posted. I promptly canceled my order and plunked down a bit more money at the Sony store for one of their CR series laptops (in Sangria). The college kid is happy.

This morning, I mailed a letter to Mr. Dell, along with a copy of the Sony sales receipt. I'm not asking for anything and frankly, I expect a form letter with some sort of half-hearted apology from some underling (if it is even signed). I figure that they will toss in a $100 coupon for a future purchase (that's what they offered when I canceled -- not a reduction in price of the laptop that I ordered, but on a FUTURE purchase (and I think there is fine print about being applicable on orders over $1000 or something).

Word is, most companies get so much email that they actually will take the time to respond to a written letter that arrives snail mail. We'll see how that theory goes. Since they already lost this sale, I doubt they will expend much effort.

But they simply aren't handling the situation very well at all. And I doubt that the top level of the company has any idea of the impact. It would be nice if the guy read my letter, but I doubt that it will come within three floors of him.

Oh well. It felt good to write. (And I was even fairly nice.)