Image by: Jacob Ammentorp Lund, ©2017 Getty Images

Last year, I wrote an article titled, “What Does Culture Have to Do with Information Management?" which made the case for addressing culture as a part of any successful information management implementation project. Today, I wanted to offer some practical advice on how to create or install a culture of information management excellence.

So, how do we actually create this type of culture? Borrowing from John C. Maxwell's definition, let’s look at the behaviors, symbols, and systems of an organization—the three components that make up culture.


Of the three components, behavior is the biggest contributor to culture. One of the best ways to create a culture of information management excellence is to clearly define the desired and appropriate behaviors. This can be done by simply listing out these expected 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 the preservation of business records. It's also important to list inappropriate behaviors for all staff members, including 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, Box (personal), Microsoft OneDrive, or Apple iCloud. The key here is to make sure the descriptions are behavior-based and not just outcomes.

For example, at an industrial service company serving refineries, chemical plants, pipeline, and terminal/tank farm businesses, all new employees are expected to attend training where the organization's behaviors, systems, and symbols are reviewed. During this training, practical examples of the company’s "excellent" behaviors are discussed and veteran team members share how they demonstrate the behaviors daily. Each new employee is asked to sign a commitment, which states that he/she 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's offices.


The second component of culture is symbols, which can be used to reinforce the organization's beliefs. For example, at that same industrial service company, they created a “challenge coin,” which places the four company values around the perimeter of the coin. They ask each employee to carry the coin with them while on the job as a visible/tangible reminder of what the company stands for. The owner will even ask his employees to describe what they have done that day to demonstrate or live the values of safety, personnel, presentation, or production.

Another example of symbols is a visual item displayed by leaders to encourage 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 of culture is systems. I define systems as processes, procedures, and tools that enable effective information management. When I mention tools, I'm 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 communication and training about how to use these systems.

Finally, to keep a culture of information management 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 consistently support the desired culture and come up with strategies to address any gaps or changes needed.

Creating a culture of information management excellence is a team sport. 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.

Want more on information management excellence? Don't miss Russell's session on the future of information security at DSF ’17, May 1-3, 2017 in Downtown Chicago.

Russell Stalters is the founder of Clear Path Solutions Inc., author of, and is a recognized information and data management expert. Previously, he was the director of information and data management and chief architect for BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization. Follow him on Twitter @russellstalters.

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