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Acquire an institutional memory

Add a dose of perspective to your insights

by on
in HR Management,Human Resources

The more you know about where your organization has been, the better your position is to guide it forward. Institutional memory helps you to assess a problem by analyzing the past.

In this age of job-hopping, however, you may not stay at one employer long enough to gain a long-term understanding of your company. But you can still build an institutional memory that’ll help you gain the credibility to problem solve effectively without reinventing the wheel or taking needless risks. Here’s how:

Ask old-timers. Find the employee with the longest tenure. Find out how the organization was set up years ago, how it has evolved and what procedures worked and didn’t work. Take notes—you may want to pass this information along to others in an accurate manner.

Check the archives. If your company keeps customer records, invoices, business plans and other material dating back many decades, review them. While few firms have a dedicated archivist, the public relations or human resources department might preserve historical data.

Reunite retirees. Invite retirees to a company reunion. Make it fun, and salute their contributions. They’ll introduce you to a cast of characters and events that helped shape the organization that you’re familiar with today.

What do you do with all this information? Use it. In brainstorming sessions, alert your team with “we’ve tried that before and here’s what we learned” lessons. In pitching a proposal, draw upon past performance or “tradition” to reinforce your conclusion.

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