Every healthcare organization is a rich repository of accumulated wisdom that serves as the underpinnings of that organization's overall identity and values.

While website mission statements are one aspect of identity for a healthcare facility or system, truly distinctive character and wisdom are represented by the memory, knowledge and skill of the individuals who are intrinsic parts of the collective whole. Intelligent healthcare leaders recognize this dynamic by actively honoring, valuing and preserving institutional memory.

The value of institutional memory

Organizations have a life of their own, and certain aspects of organizational life can detract from the power and influence of institutional memory. If a hospital or healthcare facility is managed in such a way that employees are treated as disposable cannon fodder, worker attrition becomes a funnel through which valuable institutional memory and knowledge are frequently lost.

In the context of interdisciplinary collaboration and the delivery of life-saving and complex patient care, experienced and dedicated employees are holders of crucial knowledge and institutional memory.

While policies and procedures provide an important written library of operational standards, those documents only come alive when interpreted and understood by thoughtful employees willing to put them into practice. Words on paper pale in comparison to the power of worker agency, and long-standing staff members who carry vital institutional memory are central to overall institutional success.

When leadership drops the ball

When new employees skip the frying pan and are thrown directly into the fire without proper preceptorship and mentoring, healthcare leaders are seriously dropping the ball. And when more experienced staff members receive little or no support for their own professional growth and development, unhappy employees who feel deeply undervalued are the natural result.

In either of these cases, employee attrition becomes a major threat to organizational well-being, and attrition of knowledgeable and experienced staff does significant damage to the collective bank of wisdom from which the facility may draw.

When a blind eye is turned to bullying, aberrant behavior, violence, sexual harassment and discrimination, workplace morale readily plummets, staff seek employment elsewhere, and the greater whole loses a cornerstone of its foundation. Poor leadership is a thoroughly avoidable weakness, yet too many healthcare facilities sadly sink under the curse of weak leadership run amok.

Retaining organizational wisdom

The retention of organizational wisdom and collective institutional knowledge is the responsibility of leadership. And such retention first begins with a commitment to do so.

Rules of engagement must then be operationalized that will imbue the corporate culture with a sense that individual contributions to the life of the organization are highly valued.

When employees feel valued through the promotion of self-care, safe working conditions, adequate staffing and other crucial initiatives, they are more likely to remain loyal and dedicated team members intent on contributing to the success of the facility. From here grows a culture of mutually-held commitment, common beliefs and the understanding that the honoring of collective wisdom is paramount.

In the end, the retention of organizational wisdom is predicated on the retention of high-quality employees, and such retention can only be successful in the presence of enlightened, forward-thinking healthcare leadership.