A Memory is Too Precious to Waste

Sarah Barton is currently accepting clients who are interested in creating an organizational memory. If you are interested, please call 304. 834.0923.Now enjoy Sarah's final post on organizational memory.

Over the past several months, I have shared with you my insights on organizational memory. We defined organizational memory as a comprehensive history of an organization, including policy, projects and plans. Recognizing that not all organizations have a solid “memory” in place, several ways of creating an organizational memory were reviewed, including creating a task force, identifying available items in your memory and creating items to fill the “gaps” in your memory. In this final posting, we are going to discuss three ways to maintain you organizational memory.

Memories are meant to be shared -- As with all good things, we should learn to share our organizational memories with everyone we know. Having a comprehensive history of your organization is useful for everyone within the organization, not just a small number of the employees who worked on the project.  The location of your “memory” should be the first place every employee looks when they have a question about the organization. Make sure that you share the location of your “memory” regularly, and encourage others to reference it when they have a question. In order to be used (and useful), it must be referenced frequently (and used often).

Remember the good, the bad, and the ugly -- In the book, My Soul to Save, Rachel Vincent says that the worst memories stick with us, while the nice ones always seem to slip through our fingers. I actually believe the opposite is true for most organizations. Often the successful events and happenings are recorded, while the unsuccessful ventures are quickly forgotten. None of us wants to remember our failures, but for an organization it is vital that we have some record of the projects, policies and practices that did not work for our organization. We don’t want to repeat the past mistakes over and over again, so try to make sure that some evidence of past mistakes is recorded in your memory. Details on participants, time, etc. can be limited, but it is important to note that something was tried and was deemed unsuccessful. Provide valid and easy to understand reasons for its lack of success so that if similar projects do need to be under-taken in the future, others can avoid or adjust for the obstacles that previously caused failure. You will save yourself time and money by remembering the good, the bad and the ugly.

There is always enough time to take a snapshot -- Your organization’s memory is only a reliable resource if it is maintained. Create processes to regularly add updated “snapshots” and information to your memory files. Make adding files to the memory easy. If I have to email you my “memories” and you have to email them to Bob, and Bob has to email them to Jane, and Jane has to email them to Ralph before they get added to the files, it is likely your memory will not stay up to date. If you have created a simple and solid structure for your team members to store their information within, then you should be able to provide them with the ability to maintain the portions that apply to their functions or offices.

Let everyone have a chance with the camera -- Feel free to allow others to contribute often to your organizational memory. While some “snapshots” might not be worth keeping, in other cases you will find that even a poor snapshot is better than nothing. My father’s house burnt to the ground when he was a young boy. We are glad to have even the worst snapshots in our files because there are so few snapshots of him. If a snapshot were too horrible to use, we could just throw it out.

Keep your memory books up-to-date -- Audit your organizational memory yearly to make sure that everyone has maintained their portion of the memory. During your annual audits you can eliminate useless information, and move any information that might have been misplaced.

Thank you for sharing your time with me as I presented information about creating and maintaining an organization’s memory. In my experience, focusing time on organizing and creating a useful system for accessing your memory will pay dividends and save time and effort.


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.