INFORM Conference Blog

Creating a Culture of Information Management Excellence
Russell Stalters

This June, at the INFORM Conference being held at Princeton University, I will be presenting

“Information & Data Management at Dog Speed”. What do I mean by that? Well, I am not going to be a spoiler so you will need to attend the INFORM Conference to find out. What I can tell you is that I will be sharing practical, real-world lessons that can help you take your Information Governance/Management Program to the next level.

One of the critical elements of an effective program is to install (yes, I said install) a culture of information management excellence. The following is some practical advice on how to create or install a culture of information management (IM) excellence.

As a reminder, I am using John C. Maxwell’s, an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, coach, and author, definition of culture which is behavior, symbols, and systems. Behavior is the personality of an organization’s culture. Systems are the practices of the culture. For instance, the way each employee manages their information and how everyone supports each other as they embrace a new information management solution are both behaviors and systems. Symbols are used to reinforce the culture and help identify the systems and behaviors that are needed to support the culture.

How do we actually create this type of culture? Let’s look at each of the three areas in detail.

Of the three components of culture, behavior is the biggest contributor. One of the best ways to create a culture of IM excellence is to clearly define the desired and appropriate behaviors. This can be done simply by listing out the appropriate and inappropriate behaviors for all staff members. For example, appropriate behaviors would include storing all electronic content in approved repositories, ensuring naming conventions are followed and metadata applied consistently, and ensuring preservation of business records. Inappropriate behaviors would include use of third-party instant messaging services, non-corporate/consumer email services or third-party social media services (such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn) for organization-related communications, or storing content in consumer repositories like Dropbox, (personal), Microsoft OneDrive, or Apple iCloud. The key here is to make sure the descriptions are behavior based and not just outcomes.

A friend of mine, Donovan Weldon, who owns an industrial service company serving refineries, chemical plants, pipeline, and terminal/tank farm businesses has successfully created a culture of excellence at his company. First, he makes sure that all employees understand the expected appropriate behaviors and what constitutes inappropriate behaviors. When a new employee joins, they are expected to attend training where the behaviors, systems and symbols are reviewed. During this training, practical examples of the company’s excellence behaviors are discussed and veteran team members share how they demonstrate the behaviors daily.  Then each new employee is asked to sign a commitment form stating that they will actively support and live out the four core values of safety, personnel, presentation, and production. The commitment forms are on display in the company offices.

While leading the data management program for BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, my team used a similar process for making sure all staff (including leadership) understood the behaviors required for a culture of IM excellence. We conducted new joiner along with annual refresher training. During the training, practical examples of the desired behaviors where discussed and demonstrated. Then we asked everyone to sign off that they had read and understood the information management policy (similar to Donovan’s commitment form) which included a list of the appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

The second component of culture is symbols which can be used to reinforce the culture. Another good example from my friend Donovan is that he created a company “challenge coin” which has the four company values around the perimeter of the coin. He asks each employee to carry the coin with them while on the job every day as a visible/tangible reminder of what the company stands for. He also will go up to one of his team members and ask them to take the coin out of their pocket and has them look at which of the four values their thumb is covering. He then asks them to describe what they have done that day to demonstrate or live into that value of safety, personnel, presentation, or production. Another example of symbols is the visual example that leaders of the organization display that encourages a culture of excellence. This can be as simple as periodically giving someone on their team a hand-written note acknowledging the contributions they have made or the way they live the values of the organization each day. This simple act of valuing their contributions can have profound results in strengthening and building a culture of excellence.

The third component is systems. I define systems as processes, procedures, and tools that enable effective information management. When I mention tools, I am not talking about technology. Systems can include checklists, training materials, frequently asked questions, and other resources that help support the desired appropriate behaviors and make it easy for staff to do the right thing when it comes to managing information. For these systems to be effective your team should review them periodically and ensure that there is regular communications and training about how to use these systems.

Finally, to keep a culture of IM excellence thriving and growing the leadership team must consistently work together. Often leadership team meetings focus entirely on operational and financial performance without ever evaluating the state of the culture. One way to address this during leadership team meetings is to ask members to discuss if the behaviors are consistently supporting the desired culture and come up with strategies of how to address any gaps or changes needed.

Creating a culture of IM excellence is a team sport and by leveraging some of the recommendations above  information management initiatives can be successful as employees embrace and adopt the right behaviors and begin using practices necessary to effectively manage information.


Russ Stalters

Russell Stalters is an information governance subject matter expert with real-world experience designing and implementing some of the most critical information and data management programs. A retired Naval Aviator and CIO, former software company (TrueArc) President, and executive leader while at BP, he was hand-selected to lead the strategy and build the team to manage the data from the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

A regular industry speaker, noted author, and thought leader, he speaks at national and international conferences. In 2014, he was inducted into the Association of Imaging and Information Management ( Company of Fellows to recognize his expertise in the field of information management.

Now, as a StoryBrand Certified Guide, he helps technology software and services companies use the power of story to attract their ideal clients and grow sales by not confusing them.

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