What is Organizational Memory? Description
The Organizational Memory method from Walsh and Ungson is a technique that
can be used for information retention, acquisition, and retrieval in an organization.
Walsh and Ungson suggest that the structure of organizational memory can
be classified within six information "storage bins":
- Culture (stories, mental models),
- Transformations (the various processes and procedures),
- Structures (roles within the organization),
- Ecology (physical setting of the organization), and
- External archives (information documentation).
Organizational memory refers to stored information from an organization
that can be used for current decisions. It is not centrally stored, but distributed
across different facilities where it is retained.
The model helps HRM managers to improve an organization's chances to exploit
better its memory potential, by shaping and influencing these memory locations.
Origin of Organizational Memory. History
There are several modern scholars who publish work regarding organizational
memory. But it is clear that the origins of this concept are based upon the
work of early twentieth-century scholars such as Durkheim and Vygotsky. According
to Wexler (2002), the notion of organizational memory originates from the
work of Durkheim and his protégé and was built upon the concept of collective
memory. Spender (1996) claims that organizational memory is inextricably
linked to the work of Vygotsky and social construction theory. He offers
the argument that socially embedded activity preceded the development of individual
consciousness (p. 71). Walsh and Ungson (1991) cite the work of March and
Simon (1958), who posit that the memory of an organization or institution
can be housed in policies and procedures. This retention characteristic
can also result in negative consequences. Walsh and Ungson (1991) also cite
the work of Starbuck and Hedberg (1977), who claim that structured artifacts
such as roles can do harm to an institution, when they lose their efficacy
over time and actually become impediments to change.
Usage of the Organizational Memory model. Applications
- Human Resources
- Knowledge Management
Strengths of the Organizational Memory concept. Benefits
- Gives a simple framework for guiding HR efforts in improving knowledge
- Allows institutions to benefit from historical information and from
learnings. Despite the transient nature of organizational membership (Berthon,
Pitt & Ewing, 2001).
- Can serve as a competitive advantage (Wexler, 2002; Croasdell, 2001).
- Can actually reduce transaction costs (Croasdell, 2001).
- Can serve a political role in organizations. This can have both positive
and negative implications (Walsh and Ungson, 1991).
Limitations of Organizational Memory. Disadvantages
- A too high emphasis on organizational memory can disable learning in
an organization, causing rigidity and blindness: companies no longer notice
changes in the environment.
- Organizational memory is a function of an institution's age, size and
success (Sinkula, 1994; Lukas, Hult and Ferrell, 1996; and Berthon, Pitt
and Ewing, 2001).
- Prior history may cause habitual decision making and in
(Berthon, Pitt and Ewing, 2001).
- Artifacts such as roles and organizational structure, that are stored
within the culture of institutions, may also become impediments to change
(Walsh and Ungson, 1991).
Assumptions of the Organizational Memory model. Conditions
- According to Walsh and Ungson (1991), when you think about organizational
memory, you must consider three critical factors: retention, acquisition,
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Compare with Organizational Memory:
| SECI model |
(Collison & Parcell) |
Five Disciplines |
and Organic Systems |
Action Learning |
Levels of Culture
Organization Cultures |
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