In Setting Retention Schedules, Precision is Everything

By Steve Weissman posted 07-26-2011 17:48


Take a close look at the photograph accompanying this post – it’s of the label on a bottle of a leading brand of dog flea and tick shampoo, where it says something very interesting:

“Kills fleas and ticks for up to 10 days”

What happens then, one wonders: do the fleas and ticks come back to life?

No; we know that the manufacturer intends only for us to give Fido a bath every couple of weeks. But this isn’t what the label says, and while the imprecise language here is amusing, it is not a potential business risk.

In the context of records retention, however, such inexactitude can be highly problematic. Imagine, for example, a class of documents about which it is written “must be kept for at least two years.” Two years from when? Then what: archive? delete? destroy? And kept where, and in what format?

My father once said there’s nothing more uncommon than common sense, and counting on people to use it to interpret imprecise language is nothing short of folly. Pet care companies may be able to get away with it on their directions for use because the cost of miscomprehension is small to zero. But organizations subject to compliance rules and regulations can’t be so casual about it because the cost of litigation can be quite high.

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