Institutional memory is a collection of facts and experiences held by a group of people who are part of a corporation or organization. The history of an organization can dribble away every time people move to another town or change jobs when past events are stored only in their heads. Consider why preserving institutional memory is so important and learn how to get started.
Major Reasons for Preserving Institutional Memory
- Boost productivity. Referring to past successes and challenges gives you a wealth of information for strategic planning and daily operations. You’ll keep previous research within reach instead of having to do it all over again.
- Promote morale. Encourage your employees to take pride in their company and its history. Inspire employees with stories about how your business launched an innovative product or invented a more environmentally friendly manufacturing process.
- Shorten your response time. Sometimes you need to access old documents quickly. Backing up your claims without any long delays could be essential to coming out ahead during litigation or a tax audit.
- Prepare for special events. Important anniversaries can sneak up on you before you know it. Greet your fiftieth anniversary with lots of compelling images, news clips, and other materials.
- Fulfill your social responsibilities. Depending on the nature of your organization, scholars and community members may also have a stake in your legacy. Preservation is often a public service.
Strategies for Record Keeping
- Develop a comprehensive program. Put your records maintenance program in writing. Determine which documents to keep and for how long.
- Set your priorities. Saving everything can be expensive and make it more difficult to find what you need. Figure out what you really need to keep. Discard unnecessary documents promptly.
- Plan for accessibility. Backing up your computer overnight makes sense, but you may need to supplement those digital files, especially as technology changes. Build a retrieval system around indexes and other tools.
- Sort by usage. Distinguish between information that’s still in active use and papers that can be archived. The stuff you still refer to on occasion can stay in your filing cabinet or on shared servers.
- Caption your photos. Pictures enhance your presentations. Jot down the pertinent details when you store an image so you’re not struggling to remember them later.
- Interview founders and veterans. People who’ve been associated with an organization for years are a great asset. Schedule time to sit down and talk with them. Sign written permission forms for everyone’s sake.
- Plan for disasters. Protect your valuables. Store back-up copies offsite. Know what you’ll do in case of fire or floods.
- Address management concerns. There may be confidentiality issues that limit the information an organization stores or makes public. Incorporate these factors into your planning.
- Strive for equal representation. It’s common to find that most of the data an organization collects focuses on senior management and prosperous times. Make a deliberate effort to be more inclusive.
- Designate a “go-to” person. Trust your organizational history to a person who can coordinate an effective system. In some cases, you may need to appoint a committee.
- Hire an expert. There are professional historians and librarians who are knowledgeable about preserving history. Perhaps you could delegate keeping your institutional memory to someone like this. You might also select a university or other institution to serve as the repository for your records.
Preserving institutional knowledge enables you to go on reaping all the benefits of your hard work instead of letting them wither away. With a modest investment of time and money, you’ll protect useful information while respecting your past and cultivating a bright future.