Most businesses rely on record management and organization in order to function properly. Not all businesses, however, approach it the correct way. Even large companies can fall victim to record mismanagment. But those companies also have large budgets and large teams to address the issues they encounter.

Small-to-medium sized businesses typically do not. So advance planning is even more critical for them.

Here are some basic steps in establishing a records management program for your organization. This is not a complete list – there are additional steps most companies will want to consider. But these steps are a good place to begin.

1. Establish a records management team.

The team should consist of stakeholders from all business departments – c-level, legal, information technology, sales, HR and any others that have the ability to meet regularly.

The team’s first goal should be to develop vision and mission statements that align with those of your organization. The vision statement should be based on where the organization wants to see program five years down the road. The mission statement, of course, describes the purpose of the program, what it consists of and whom the program serves.

2. Launch an organization-wide inventory of the records in your office.

A records inventory will identify all the types of information your organization has to manage. It should include both paper and electronic information. Once all departments have been inventoried, the scope of the project will be clear. At this point, outsourced assistance may be necessary if internal staff cannot manage the entire process themselves.

3. Establish the records management policies and procedures.

The records management policy provides employee guidance. The rules, basically. It’s important that every employee, including new ones, manage records in the same, standardized way. The policy should be endorsed at the executive level and promoted throughout your organization, ensuring that it is available to all staff.

4. Create a records retention program.

Usually folded into the records management policies and procedures, a records retention program determines the records retention schedule, and the procedures that govern record storage and destruction. Certain records must be kept for specified amounts of time in order to meet regulatory, legal and business requirements.

5. Implement a records management training program.

Once the policies and procedures have been certified, all staff (and in some cases contractors) will need to be trained and know their own records management responsibilities.