The Day Of The Dead

In many cultures, today is The Day Of The Dead, a holiday on which families remember deceased relatives and honor their memories (I know – you thought I was going to be writing about a rock band…).

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

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The celebrations are generally light-hearted and family members tell humorous stories about the deceased. While my family doesn’t celebrate this day, we certainly sit around telling stores about those family members who can’t join us (hence the business axiom to never miss a meeting..) at other holidays. Which of course reminds me of a business point.

Today is, to a certain extent, a celebration of institutional memory, that institution being a family.  Businesses have institutional memory as well.  The problem is that its importance is often ignored as companies reorganize or restaff over time.  I believe it to be invaluable.

I’ve worked in places where every deal is meticulously documented.  Those pieces of paper tell you the “what” of every deal but they rarely spell out the “why”.  The people doing those deals could explain that if they were still around, but they aren’t more and more often these days.  Why did we agree to a certain rate (and the fact that it was part of another negotiation isn’t documented)?  Or perhaps someone figured out that the focus of marketing conflicts with how the PR department is focused which is why they don’t report to one another.  It doesn’t make sense on paper but institutional memory of some pitched battles can explain why it is the way it is.  That memory is often long gone, as departed as the bodies of our dead relatives.

We’re good at event memory and lousy at process memory in business.  When employees leave, we worry that maybe they took sensitive documents or contracts.  Frankly, I was always more concerned that they took their deal notes and recollections and usually conducted an exit interview where we went through the folks with whom they dealt and things not obvious about certain deals.  If there is no one preserving the institutional memory, over time your business will suffer.  Maybe each firm needs to have an annual Day of The Dead Business Associates to tell the stories about the “why” before those memories are gone.

What do you think?

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