I was recently reminded of why it is important – and where it can be found. The problem is that memory is about history, both good and bad – but very view people are interested in reading or asking about history – or drawing on the lessons that can be learned from it.
The problem with corporate memory is that it does not exist in dusty files or some form of electronic media. It exists in the minds of people – and therein lies the problem. These are usually older people.
This was brought home to me when I recently spent three days in an African country away from South Africa. I was met at the airport by the Country Director for this company which was owned by a South African company. The venue for the workshop I was to run for them was about 400 kilometres from the airport.
During this trip, and in the time spent together the rest of my stay, I learned a lot not only about the local business environment but also the industry itself. This knowledge considerably enhanced my ability to make my workshop relevant to the local managers.
Now here’s the thing. Although it was only three days we had wide ranging discussions ranging from selling skills, to marketing, to human resource management, to managing people. My host had spent 30+ years working in this industry in South Africa and neighbouring countries. He had risen through the ranks to his current senior position. I think that if he had not decided to make his home in the country where he was currently stationed he would have been promoted to senior head office positions.
I could hear that his 30 years had not consisted not of the so-called 30 times one year’s experience – but 30 years of diverse experience in terms of different geographic locations, different product types, different nationalities and different socio-economic markets.
I left my visit feeling that I had attended a management workshop myself – one grounded in practical experience not the latest fads gained from a current management ‘guru’s’ latest book delivered by a business school lecturer.
My host had vast amount of company and industry ‘memory’. Would anybody ever attempt to tap into that? I doubt it.
The reason is that young up and coming manages believe that business is all about strategy, that all ones needs to do is go around telling people to be passionate and that all their managers must be leaders and not managers. This is all well and good but there are aspects of a business and people within it that do need to be managed i.e. planned for, organised and controlled – while never forgetting that all success depends on people.
The constant need to reinvent the wheel that young managers have is counterproductive – and not necessarily innovative. They should rather focus on building on the good things and discarding the bad. Not trying to introduce the latest business fads.
There is also the ego factor. To seek information and advice from more experienced people is seen by some as a sign of weakness. In reality failing to reach into corporate memory is a sign of weakness.