Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Company Procedures are the corporate memory

Learning, implies memory. If there is no memory, there can’t be learning. A baby learns through stimuli and responses from the outside world, comparing these to existing mental models held in memory, and updated her mental models over time. But where is the memory of an organisation, that allows such learning?

You can’t rely on the memory of the employees to be the totality of the memory of the organisation, as employees come and go, and the human memory is, after all, a fragile and fickly thing.

In addition to this human organisational memory, we can make a strong case for organisational structures, operating procedures and processes also forming a core component of organisational memory. Processes and procedures are built up over time, and represent the company view of “how we do things”. Employees follow the processes, and repeat “how things are done”. The processes hold and propagate the patterns for behaviour, and for the way work is conducted. If the organisation is to learn, these processes must evolve over time.

The concept of evolving processes as part of the learning loop is recognised by many learning organisations. One of the learning professionals in the UK Military said to me “what is doctrine , if not the record of lessons learned?” Similarly the head of Common Process at BP explained BP Common Process as being the embedded knowledge of how to operate.

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