People Innovation Excellence

Organizational Learning and Organizational Memory

by : Sevenpri Candra

Organizational knowledge is being lost at an alarming rate as businesses continue to downsize, to outsource, and to draw from a pool of increasingly mobile knowledge workers. Tacit knowledge has often been referred to as “the knowledge that leaves at the end of the day” and companies are said to “lease” knowledge but not own it. In an era of knowledge workers, individuals are increasingly responsible for value creation.

Although many organizations have succession plans in place, the process usually involves transferring know-how from the departing employee to their successor, but the whole process has to be repeated again for the next departure. Organizations need to “capture” this know-how and transfer it to a stable, easily accessible, cumulative knowledge base — an organizational memory — to retain and make accessible valuable knowledge gained through the experiences of all knowledge in a continuous and uninterrupted manner.

How Do Organizations Learn and Remember?

Organizational learning (OL) can be defined as learning what worked and what did not work from the past and effectively transferring this experientially learned knowledge to present-day and future knowledge workers. The OM is a centralized technological system (often an intranet) where we can find all the by-products of OL: primarily the best practices and the lessons learned. A learning organization (LO) is a type of organization that has successfully implemented the processes of organizational learning. For example, Senge (1990) lists five key attributes that a learning organization should have. His book, The Fifth Discipline, was one of the first to identify the core competencies a learning organization should have: Mental models; Shared vision; Personal mastery; Team learning and Systems thinking.

Frameworks to Assess Organizational Learning and Organizational Memory

These organizational learning frameworks serve to evaluate the organizational readiness or baseline state of a given organization with respect to organizational learning processes, organizational memory containers, and enablers of these, such as technology and culture.

One framework, proposed by Probst and Büchel (1997) looks at the following organizational factors:

  1. Knowledge — the number of organizational learning instruments: Number of techniques for facilitating learning; Number of techniques for breaking down barriers; Process-oriented use of techniques
  2. Ability — the learning level: Ability to cooperate and participate; Ability to communicate and achieve transparency; Ability to analyze problems and solve complex issues; Ability to store knowledge
  3. Intention — the willingness to learn: Creates a structure which imparts meaning; Builds on an ethical basis; Wants to create a shared value system


Kimiz Dalkir. (2011). Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice. The MIT Press

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