The institutional memory of an organization

In my last (and first) blog post, I told you about my hiring process. More particularly the importance that the company’s values ​​represent, for me. I therefore describedthe employer brand. Five months after my arrival in post, I would like to highlight another concept whose importance I discovered, the institutional memory of an organization.

What are we talking about?

First of all, without necessarily knowing the name of this concept, we have all necessarily experienced it. Indeed, this moment when we have worked for several years in a company and we are regularly asked for information on clients or past events. Or, on the contrary, when we join a new organization and seek answers through procedures while asking thousands of questions to our new colleagues. This is because our knowledge related to our area of ​​expertise is not enough.

Often informal and intangible, organizational memory constitutes the body of knowledge and know-how that an organization has accumulated throughout its history. It is a repertoire of collective knowledge that is found in the functioning, practices, events, decisions and interpretation models of an organization which ensures its harmonious and efficient functioning and, to this end, title, represents essential capital.

This memory is based in particular on individuals, the structure (roles, procedures, collective archives) and the culture of the organization.

Is your company exposed to organizational memory loss?

To find out if your organization is facing challenges related to organizational memory loss, you can ask yourself the following questions: Am I having difficulty finding the information I need to effectively accomplish my tasks? Do my colleagues have difficulty tracing the history of the organization or describing past projects? Is the organization neglecting employee training and development?

A loss of organizational memory can be linked to a large number of retirements, repeated restructuring of your department or a high turnover rate.

Why is this important?

So what are the benefits of retaining relevant knowledge?

Decision-making, whether important or trivial (related to everyday life), tends to be more effective if it is based on past experience and present data. What’s more, decisions often carry more weight and are more thoughtful if they take the organization’s experience into consideration.2

Due to its intangibility, the cost of this loss of knowledge is not always easy to calculate and, among the ever-increasing priorities of our daily lives, the transcription of our knowledge may seem secondary.

How can organizational memory be preserved?

It is not enough to simply store knowledge and think that it will be integrated naturally by everyone in addition to being transferred from one person to another. Mechanisms must be put in place to preserve organizational memory.

Here are some tools:

  • Regular group meeting

You can discuss situations experienced by the client, and explain administrative decisions taken to the group.

  • Exit interview with resigning employees

Do not neglect the exit interview and do not reduce it to questions about the reasons for leaving. You can ask questions about their networks, skills and knowledge bases.

  • Communities of practice

This is a group of people who share a concern or passion for a subject and who share their knowledge and expertise in this area by working together on a regular basis.2

  • Gradual retirement and succession
  • Job overlap and knowledge zones

So, don’t underestimate your organizational memory. According to some case studies, the level of attention that management pays to this issue is the most important factor in the success or failure within an organization.3.


  2. Wenger, R. McDermott and W. M. Snyder, Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), p. 4.
  3. See T.A. Stewart, Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations (New York, NY: Currency, 1998); L. Edvinsson and M.S. Malone, Intellectual Capital: Realizing Your Company’s True Value by Finding its Hidden Brainpower, New York, NY, Collins, 1997; P.H.Sullivan, Profiting from Intellectual Capital: Extracting Value from Innovation, Hoboken, N.J., Wiley, 2001.


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