4 Fantastic Ways to Avoid Institutional Memory Loss

Nick Santaniello ·

Jul 26, 2017

About 10,000 Boomers will hit age 65 every day for the next 15 years. This staggering number doesn’t even consider the unprecedented acceleration of retirements following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Pew Research, 28.6MM Baby Boomers retired in the first quarter of 2020 — that’s 3.2MM more than the same quarter a year prior. Oh, there’s the Great Resignation, too, that’s pushing younger generations out their employers’ doors. One study found that 55% of people will likely look for a new job in 2022. As this trend continues, companies across the board will face increasing challenges related to institutional memory or information held in employees’ recollections and experiences. In other words, information only they know. 

In light of the concerning loss of institutional memory, here are 4 fantastic ways to combat it before that knowledge is gone for good

How to Prevent Institutional Memory Loss During the Great Resignation (and Beyond)

As troubling as the Great Resignation is — and the loss of institutional memory that’ll undoubtedly come with it — there are steps you can take to prevent (or reduce) the impact it has on your business.

Prevent Institutional Memory Loss by Taking Mentoring Online

A company-wide mentoring program is an excellent way to bring together senior and junior executives. Mentoring programs can bridge the knowledge gap between younger employees and their more seasoned counterparts and increase engagement in all employees. This is a huge value add as findings Gallup revealed that 15% of employees are actively disengaged.

Such disenchantment is not without a bottom-line impact: Gallup estimates U.S. companies lose between $450 billion and $550 billion each year due to unmotivated workers’ lack of productivity.

To foster an engaged workforce, many companies have instituted programs, such as company-wide mentoring, to improve institutional knowledge transfer and communication between workers and create a better atmosphere in the workplace. Mentoring needn’t be exclusively done in person, however. Today, many companies enable online mentoring, providing the opportunity for people to master new tasks, take on new roles and develop their professional expertise. Upping the knowledge base of workers not only helps retain institutional knowledge, but it increases engagement and the bottom line, too.

Before establishing a mentoring program, first determine what core knowledge and expertise you need to impart to younger workers and how the program will be structured (one-to-one or group). Build the online and in-person mentoring program around the skills you want to prioritize, then promote participation and measure results.

Prevent Institutional Memory Loss by Building a Knowledge Library

Two of the most common ways of avoiding institutional memory loss are with internal wikis and knowledge libraries. 

Internal wikis empower employees to share knowledge and build a library of information. Since everyone in the company has access, knowledge is curated online and doesn’t leave the building when the senior executive does. Intel’s Intelpedia is one example of a corporate wiki capturing the institutional knowledge of senior workers in the form of a digital asset.

An enterprise content management (ECM) system stores all content related to corporate processes. As Ari Bixhorn, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Panopto, writes in a recent blog on CMS Wire, most current ECM systems enable the storage of a wide range of content, from documents to social content, such as blogs, wikis and discussion feeds. So there’s no more wading through piles of paper to find the appropriate or sought-after knowledge.

That said, not all blogs and wikis are created equal. Some are much more successful at capturing employees’ attention and keeping them engaged. Much of what makes a knowledge library effective is in how the learning content within them is structured.

According to a recent survey of nearly 400 full-time employees by Software Advice, a software consulting and research firm, more than half favor an online LMS that breaks instruction into compact lessons. Our brains are naturally wired to absorb and retain learning content when doled out in shorter bits. Furthermore, these micro-lessons easily slip into an employee’s everyday workflow.

When mapping out a micro-learning program, employers must ensure smaller instruction pieces relate to a larger educational goal. That way, learners connect the shorter bits of online training to the attainment of institutional knowledge and the skills needed to progress on the job.

Micro-learning Fun Fact: In one survey, nearly 60% of survey respondents indicated that they would use their company’s learning tools more if the courses were shorter.

Prevent Institutional Memory Loss by Creating Video Content

Another tech option for combating institutional memory loss is to leverage videos to document and communicate knowledge and expertise. For some companies, the thought of video production may seem like a big project that’d require extensive resources. Fortunately, the Internet gains new innovative and easy-to-use video creation tools every day. Here’s a look at some of the recent developments.

Mobile Editing Suites

A mobile editing suite is ideal for producing short, slick videos that can be used in online materials. These allow you to shoot, edit and post a video from your mobile device while adding still photos and audio tracks. Some of the products on the market include WeVideo, which offers a limited free service, to Videolicious, a paid service.

WeVideo uses a storyboard format where you drag and drop clips and stills into an editor to build your final video. Videolicious allows you to choose shots from a library and stitch a video together while you’re recording a voiceover track.

Screencasting

If you need to show employees how to use a piece of software or demonstrate an online workflow, you can create a screencast that pairs narration with a recording of what’s happening on your computer. Mac users can create screencasts with Quicktime, a basic program that’s pre-installed. If you use Windows or want more features, check out some free web-based screencasting services, like Screencast-O-Matic.

Or you can shell out for a high-quality, feature-rich program like Camtasia, Screenflow, Microsoft Expression Encoder and Tapes. These allow you to insert visual effects, use a green screen to insert yourself into the screencast or animate content. These can be great if you plan to record yourself conducting your traditional live training and using that as the source material for eLearning.

Presentations

Some lessons don’t require a full video; you may simply need to use a slide presentation, as you would in a live workshop. Luckily, if you’re using a slide app like PowerPoint, you already have the ability to record narration for your slideshow and to export the slideshow as a video.

If the presenter needs to demonstrate a topic through illustrations, there’s a tool for that as well. Doodlecast Pro uses your iPad as a whiteboard, recording your voice as you draw a picture on the tablet. Several apps on the market allow you to do the same thing. Board Cam Pro, Screen Chomp and Educreations also allow you to make dynamic presentations from your tablet.

These videos can function as short, easy ways to instruct younger workers — and there’

s a variety of formats in which a video can be made. Some of the possible formats for transferring knowledge through video include:

  • How it’s done
  • What I’ve learned
  • Meet the expert
  • Tips and tricks on particular subjects

Professional services consultancy Aragon Research has a useful worksheet on planning “knowledge capture” video production.

4. Prevent Institutional Memory Loss by Implementing an Online Learning Program

The great part about all these tech tools — online mentoring, internal wikis, ECMs and video knowledge capture — is that they help build content for an excellent online learning program.

  • Online courses can be a point of connection and discussion in mentoring relationships. Younger employees working through a course can use their mentors to enhance the experience further. Mentors hearing about concerns from their juniors can offer additional knowledge or recommend certain content or courses.
  • By including the perspective of retiring Baby Boomers, existing training programs can begin to weave in “organic” material along with what trainers and instructional designers developed for the course.
  • Newer online employee training programs can use these tools to get a running start on building digital assets to roll up into their courses.
  • Lastly, these tech tools have the advantage of reaching remote employees and enable learning 24/7 — an incredibly important factor when you consider that by the end of 2021, 51% of all knowledge workers are expected to be working remotely, representing an 88% increase in just two years.

As you build out your online education program, remember that the goal is not simply to store institutional knowledge but also to ensure that knowledge is successfully transferred to and retained by existing and future employees. The best way to do this is to employ online learning methods that make your content accessible, comprehensible and captivating. Here are a few ways you can create engaging content to fight institutional memory loss.

  • Make the training fun
  • Make the training flexible
  • Make the training challenging

If you’re not ready to move your training program fully online, blended learning could be a good alternative. Blended learning in business is learner-centric and informal, with a focus on training skills. The learning’s conducted using traditional face-to-face methods and online training courses to provide learners with a deep understanding of the material.

With blended learning, you get the convenience and flexibility of online learning with the personalization and real-world application of in-person training. Your senior executives can be empowered by the opportunity to create a curriculum using various tools and mediums, such as slide decks, digital guides, videos, interactive modules, as well as in-person workshops.

This creates a more diversified and comprehensible learning experience that helps learners efficiently absorb the content, build knowledge and retain the material in the long run.

Final Thoughts on Institutional Memory 

As more people exit the workforce (or switch jobs) in the coming years, it’s hard not to be concerned about the loss of valuable employees and the institutional knowledge that goes out the door with them.

From industry expertise to procedural best practices, there’s so much that may be missed if companies don’t proactively work to preserve them. Starting early and prioritizing programs such as mentorship, knowledge libraries and online training is essential in building an ecosystem wherein institutional knowledge is retained, transferred and continually built upon. It’s every company’s best bet to avoid the chasm of institutional memory loss and continue on the path of growth and scale.

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Editor’s Note: Originally published in 2017, this article was updated on October 19, 2021, to include current information. 

About the Author

Nick Santaniello

Nick Santaniello heads up content at Northpass. He would like you to know that he feels most at home while reading or wandering through the woods. He's passionate about learning and Villanova Basketball, and thinks you should be, too.

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