Keep Your Retention Policies Simple

Posted by: Stephanie Donahue on September 08, 2015

When it comes to governance and retention policies, there seems to be this misunderstanding that the rules have to be complicated. The other day, I received an HR department's retention and destruction policy. Here's a small sample of it –

Type of Record Retention Period
Contracts 20 AT
Credit and collection
5 Years7 Years

3 Years

Expense Reports 5 Years


And it went on from there. Initially, it appears impressive that such a detailed retention policy was put together. But this organization isn't that big. So what is my first question?

Do you actually follow this policy?

You know the answer right? "No, the policy is not followed".

So – what good is a policy is you aren't following it? Well – I suppose it reduces your legal liability for having to produce something outside the bounds of those dates. It does provide you with some guidelines while purging documentation if and when you get to it. But is it really governance if the policy isn't enforced on a regular basis? No. As it turns out, the policy was something an employee found on a website somewhere and it probably applies to a much larger organization that likely staffs a full time person to just manage records. So it's sufficient for audits to prove you have a policy, but nearly impossible for a smaller organization to keep up with. As a smaller or medium sized organization, you CAN follow retention policies successfully but you just need to simplify the rules a bit.

If we try again, simplifying the rules without putting our audits at risk –

Type of Record Retention Period
Contracts 20 AT
Correspondence 7 Years
Expense Reports 5 Years


This is a basic example, but when you are looking at 50+ individual policies for one department, it shows you how you can easily reduce that number down to 15 or 20 policies instead. The idea is to keep looking for ways to simplify by just taking the highest common denominator when considering the number of years. You may be keeping documents a little bit longer than is required, but it's a policy that can be followed and keeping things a couple years longer than is required is still better than keeping everything forever. Breaking down the policies this way gives us the ability for anyone to clearly understand and organize content in a way that this policy can be enforced.

As it applies to SharePoint, you can create a document or content type in SharePoint for each type of record and apply an automated retention policy to it, without making the sites too complicated. We'll provide a working example of this in a future blog post.

Topics: Governance, SharePoint

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