Institutional Memory

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I spend my weekend evenings at Central Market in Fort Worth listening to live music. That post was about my favorite bands and the ones we’ve lost through the years.

I admit that some evenings at Central Market are more relaxing than others. I can usually settle down with my burger or chicken sandwich from the grill in time to be almost finished with my food before the band goes on at 6 p.m. Sometimes, however, service at the grill doesn’t begin until 6 — and in at least one case, 6:15.

I try to remember not to interact with any of the store’s employees. It rarely goes well. I’ve made the same mistake more than once. I’ve asked why they were running late starting service at the outdoor grill when there was no sign of a grill cashier at 5:30. At least six different times, I’ve asked the question. Each time, I get the same answer: We never start serving until 6. We never have. You’re remembering it wrong.

Then, I look at name badge of the employee (who thought that being rude and insulting was part of his or her job description): “Two years of service”. Or less. I’ve been coming there as a customer much longer than they’ve worked there! And since someone else was managing the grill the previous week, they don’t even know whether last week went smoothly or was a disaster, so they certainly couldn’t know whether it started on time or not.

They can’t provide a consistent experience because they don’t remember how it once was. I’ve often though that current employees would be embarrassed by the state of their patio parties if they could see how well organized they once were. There was a time when service began promptly at 5:30. Burgers were always thoroughly cooked. Fries were always the same type, not whatever they decided to bring out. No one would have even considered slicing chicken breasts horizontally in half to make one piece of chicken serve two customers. (The chicken incident was last week. Those are among the reasons I often have salad now — spending half as much money as I would have if things were more consistent on the patio.)

So is all of this just complaining about a once grand institution that has fallen from its glory? Sure, I’m venting a little. That’s what blogs are for. Also, I’m sad that one of my favorite events is declining. This blog post is called “institutional memory” for a reason, however.

“Institutional memory” is, according to Wikipedia (on the day I accessed it) “is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people.”  (You can read more about it and find some useful links at

What my still-favorite outdoor event is lacking is a healthy dose of institutional memory.

It’s a good lesson for anyone trying to run a business despite high employee turnover: Write down your procedures, then train your employees in them.That gives you a chance to refine your systems rather than reinventing them each time they are implemented. That’s how you provide consistent service. That’s how you develop devoted clientele who always get what they expect. That’s how you survive.


Posted via email from gipplaster’s posterous