Building Organizational Memories: Will You Know What You by John P. Girard

By John P. Girard

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Offended and scared people will demand that others leave the matter alone. All told, these open secrets are persistent inaccuracies within an organization’s memory and are driven by the force of culture. They are especially problematic in the way they discourage inquiry and memory retrieval. Highlighting an open secret and exposing it to reason will inevitably result in political animosity and a long-fought campaign of correction. The politico-cultural dynamic that knowledge managers are perhaps most familiar with is territoriality.

Organizations with poor labor relations often give rise to peer pressure among classes of workers that ensure these habits persist as part of the culture. As this overview stresses, organizational culture can be a useful yet imperfect “vessel” of organizational memory. The shortcoming is not that knowledge, information, and experience from the past are partial. Filtering is a necessary part of culture and other parts of organizational activity. However, this filtering is biased by the specific medium (to obliquely paraphrase Marshall McLuhan) and can potentially distract attention from sources of better, new knowledge.

Likewise, management interventions that lead to high levels of employee turnover may cause a culture to even loose deeply held values and principles in a relatively short span of time. Many advocates and demonstrators of core values may flee and their cherished values supplanted by those of newcomers—a situation that often happens during mergers or other major reorganizations. The manager’s introductory lesson to organizational culture is to first do no harm, especially if that manager happens to parachute in from outside of the organization.

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