Filling in Organizational Memory Gaps

Enjoy another post from our colleague, Sarah. Last post, we talked about how to create a file structure for your organizational memory. You might remember that we looked at ordering the file structure by department, then by category, and finally settled on a mix of the two types of structures. After we reviewed our results, we identified holes in our organizational memory, which is an important, but often ignored, part of the process.

Below are some of the items we identified as "needed" in our review. Yours may differ, but I wanted to highlight these items because most organizations will have similar materials that should be recorded in their memory.

Organizational Chart. If your organization doesn’t have one, begin simple. Jot down all the titles in your organization. Need help? Ask a friendly receptionist at your organization - they are usually familiar with the various offices because of their position in the organization. Organize the names on your list by office, then by position. Pass it around to your colleagues to ensure that no one gets over looked. If you are doing this on the computer, do it in software that is familiar to you, so that you don’t get bogged down with formatting issues. We only want to complete the process; we don’t need to make it magazine worthy.

Annual Reports. Annual reports are compiled at most organizations, regardless of whether it's a non-profit or for-profit organization. Don't know where to look? Start in the accounting office or talk with your chief financial officer, which will likely have the report for accounting and legal compliance requirements.

Policy/Procedures Guides. These are very important in succession planning. If something happens to an employee, and you need to replace him immediately, you will want a structure to guide you in training the next employee. Have each office begin documenting the various jobs in their department by creating a comprehensive task list. Once you have established the tasks associated with each office, you need to document two critical pieces of information: (1) WHY those tasks are completed (POLICY), and (2) HOW the tasks are completed (PROCEDURE). The procedure section will include a step-by-step guide to task completion, which will serve as a training document for future employees. Writing a comprehensive policy/procedure guide will be time-consuming, but can be assigned in manageable chunks (perhaps one task completed per week for a certain number of weeks) to avoid the process becoming overwhelming. The "completion dates" should be added to the calendar of the organizational memory committee, which may consider assigning a "task force" to follow-up with each office.

Annual Updates/Legal Notices. Most human resource departments have a list of items that must be completed annually or on which they must provide training annually. Maintaining these items in a centralized location helps to ensure that items don’t get overlooked during annual trainings and provides easy access when new employees are hired and need to be trained outside of normal training periods.

If you have been able to locate these items, but they are outdated, you may want to update the items by committee. I know, we hear the word committee and we want to roll our eyes and feign passing out. Don’t do it! Committees are not the enemy. Usually the size of the committee is what ruins its effectiveness. I recommend committee sizes of three to five. The committee can review the document together, identify key areas that need to be updated, identify personnel to update the section, and then cooperatively work on final edits.

One final thought. If you are one of the millions of American who hate writing, a quick search on the Internet will provide a myriad of samples, templates and guides used in other organizations. If you want to use a document you have identified on the Internet, please notify the organization that you like their documents and would like to structure your materials based on theirs. I have always found other organizations to be willing to share their information and have often found helpful individuals at the other end of the telephone who have provided me with anecdotal information about their documents and their creation.

Sarah Barton currently serves as Registrar at Ohio Valley University. She has over twelve years experience working in the areas of records maintenance, database management, grant writing, grant administration, and organizational assessment. When she is not working, she is a wife and mother of three children, a mixed media artist, a cook and an active member of her church family.