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Help Sheet

Building a corporate memory

A 'Corporate Memory' (a term most often used in the business world but of high relevance also to the community sector as well) refers to an organisation's historic records and experience.

An organisation's corporate memory is an essential tool for allowing reliable predictions, estimations and forecasting. Yet it all too often resides only in the minds of management committee members, staff and volunteers; when they leave, so too does the knowledge.

This is a situation your organisation should strive to avoid.

The benefit of establishing a corporate memory or central records repository is that if someone leaves your organisation, or a different person moves into a particular position the next year, they have the benefits of your experiences - good and bad - and your contacts.

What's at stake

In working towards its mission, your organisation has built up a terrific store of knowledge relating to:

and a million other smaller pieces of information that go to making up the bigger picture of what you do and how and why you do it.

One of the most common problems for community groups - and many businesses - is that so much effort goes into planning and doing the work and so little into recording all the finicky details to establish the "corporate memory". This is often because these organisations are under funded and the expectations on staff are unacceptable. It is the responsibility of an organisation that wants an emphasis on record keeping to make sure that there is time for everyone to do it.

Think about what would happen if certain key people suddenly stopped turning up. Could someone else step into the breach to handle the budget, the bills, the annual general meeting, and all the other things that need to be done to ensure your organisation continues to function properly?

Write it down and file it away

Effective organisations are those that recognise that knowledge is "owned" by the entire group and not just by an individual. It is terribly unproductive to keep on making the same mistakes each year because coherent records were not kept. To set up a living corporate memory, you need to plan and establish a workable record-keeping system. This means:

Attending to detail

Some people intuitively pay attention to detail and find record keeping comes naturally. Indeed, they often feel insecure and uncomfortable when detailed records of minutiae are not kept and not readily available.

Other people are made differently. Although they can learn many of the skills needed to work in this way it does not come readily, is always a chore and they often do not prioritise collecting and recording information.

It is vital that any not-for-profit consumer organisation which employs people is aware of these differences and organises itself around employees' strengths. Every organisation needs the 'details people' and the 'big picture' people. In terms of capturing the corporate memory your group can:

The Board/Committee of Management

The committee of management's job is not just to ensure that a strong corporate memory exists in other parts of the organisation, but that it does its bit too. Having the benefit of a strong corporate memory can make all the difference between making a good, informed decision and repeating all the mistakes of the past.

Ensure excellent records of committee meetings are kept. Files should include agendas, detailed minutes, supporting documents and any other information committee members have used in their deliberations.

Committee of Management records should also be easily accessible (keeping in mind confidentiality requirements) and logically filed. As with other records, there is little point keeping great historical information if no one can find it when they need it.

Those organisations that keep a strong corporate memory are able to build on their successes year by year through constantly learning and refining processes and contacts.

Before the annual meeting solicit prospective committee of management members and frankly talk about the need for 'details people' to fill positions of Secretary and Treasurer. Always emphasise that this is not about competence but rather about style. It might well be that the Chair will come from the ranks of the 'big picture' people.

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