Institutional Memory


Companies work hard to develop what is known as institutional knowledge; ways of doing things, procedures and policies that enable the company to perform effectively.

But as hard as the company might work to grow this knowledge, over time, it often decays. Some of it may find its way into company policies and procedures, but much of it is in the minds of the employees. And the knowledge is lost a little at a time when these employees move on to new jobs or retire. It also gets lost when a new CEO takes over and puts a new agenda into place, one that emphasizes something different. And the knowledge can get lost when a company merges with another.

The way businesses work today, with mergers and the turnover of company leadership, the decay of institutional knowledge seems to be accelerating. So, the questions is, what can companies do to retain this institutional knowledge that is so important?

One thing to do is to come up with a clearly spelled out strategy for maintaining the knowledge, says consultant Ron Ashkenas. You can’t just expect that this knowledge will be passed on like some tribal ritual.

As part of this strategy, you should determine a few important things that everyone should know or that they should be able to do. These things should be spelled out, and it should be clear that everyone is expected to know them. You can’t just assume that they will take the effort to make it a part of their institutional memory if you don’t emphasize its importance. Make learning them a part of the onboarding process, Ashkenas says, or offer refresher sessions to veteran employees.

Additionally, you should put technology to work as a way of maintaining and disseminating this institutional knowledge; to keep it relevant and current to the needs of the company, Ashkenas says.  Intel, for example, has a company wiki, where employees can go to learn about important procedures, terms, and company history, among other things.

We all know how fragile individual memory can be, and it is important to realize that institutional memory can be just as fragile if it is not cared for.

As you work to maintain your institutional memory, the recruiters at RealStreet Staffing can find the right people for the architecture, engineering and construction jobs you need to fill throughout the United States. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.

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