Corporate Amnesia - When Organizational Memory Walks Out the Front Door With Your Knowledge Workers

Apr 28 2016

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“Organizational memory is the accumulated body of data, information and knowledge created in the course of an individual organization’s existence. Falling under the wider disciplinary umbrella of knowledge management, it has two repositories: an organization's archives, including its electronic data bases; and individuals’ memories. Corporate amnesia is a phrase used to describe a situation in which businesses, and other types of co-operative organization, lose their memory of how to do things.“

Wikipedia

As the economy improves, the churn rate of experienced staff increases as well. Challenges in recruiting and developing young talent coupled with the retirement of senior employees bring to light the issue of memory loss. Every time a person changes employer, a part of the company’s memory is lost as well. The lack of continuity damages the organization’s competitiveness. Common problems include:

  • Difficulties in running complex systems and an inability to complete long-term projects
  • Repeating old mistakes and a failure to learn from past successes
  • Decreased productivity
  • Reduced interest in understanding company history
  • Loss of corporate identity, dilution of mission and culture

One could say a new employee's experience can compensate for the missing know-how when someone else departs. While a new recruit may be highly knowledgeable and bring a fresh perspective it can take up to a year for her to become fully productive. In this economy, the ability to learn faster than competitors becomes essential not only for growth, but also for company survival. Organizations can avoid expensive mistakes and take advantage of opportunities through knowledge preservation.

So how can we prevent corporate amnesia?

  1. Create reliable databases for easily storing and finding knowledge (reports, policies, competitive intelligence data etc.)
  2. Do a Post-Mortem at the end of each project to determine and analyze the elements that were successful / unsuccessful 
  3. Foster a culture where people are encouraged to communicate and share their know-how and ideas
  4. Create a comprehensive onboarding procedure and mentorship program to facilitate the assimilation of new employees
  5. Nominate knowledge experts so new recruits can easily find the go to people for a given subject matter
  6. Implement succession-planning tools, including knowledge preservation-exit interviews and handover sessions.

If you’re not looking to reinvent the wheel, through these methods you can reduce the likelihood of mistakes and ultimately save time and money while strengthening you competitive advantage.