Organizational memory is a term used in business to describe the total body of information, acquisitions, and experiences of an entity or company. Both a personal and practical consideration, organizational memory can take the form of records, databases, financial histories, and the individual experiences and knowledge of workers. Many companies with a view to long-term success take careful precautions in maintaining both tangible and intangible organizational memories.
A great deal of organizational memory boils down to written records of all company activity dating back to its beginning. Employee records, yearly balance sheets, changing employee codes and rules, and even letters from customers form the bulk of tangible history for an organization. In some cases, the carefully maintenance of these records is necessary for insurance, tax, and legal reasons; for instance, a company undergoing an audit may need to have several years' worth of financial documents close at hand. In other situations, however, these records are carefully maintained so as to preserve a careful documented history of an organization's existence. Like family photographs and saved report cards, archived company documents detail every step that has lead an organization to the present day.
Throughout most of the 20th century, historical documents were frequently stored in dusty filing cabinets, making them inaccessible and often useless. Since the advent of computers, many companies have begun storing digital records in databases that allow cross-referencing. With a well-organized database, information can be quickly and easily retrieved, sparing hours of searching through files. Moreover, digital record-keeping can preserve organizational memory from disasters such as fires or floods.
The human side of organizational memory is often considered even more valuable to the long-term status of the company. Workers approaching retirement, or those changing careers, may possess decades of knowledge about the company, their jobs, and the past and future of the organization. Without a mechanism to pass this type of knowledge forward, a company may have to re-invent itself with each new generation of workers. Many businesses create apprentice systems that allow experienced workers to train new employees and introduce them to the details of how the job is done. By creating a clear and comprehensive program from knowledge-sharing, businesses can ensure that excellence is continued, despite the changing of the guard.
Preserving organizational memory is a means of connecting a company's future to its past. By encouraging the passage of knowledge and preservation of important data, the origins and core values of an organization can be reinforced, generation by generation. By creating accessible and safe data storage methods and encouraging apprenticeships, a business can work to create a sustainable reputation and legacy that builds with each passing year.