Way back in 1799, a French soldier in Napoleon’s army in Egypt stumbled upon what would eventually become one of the most important discoveries of all time. The Rosetta Stone is a nearly one ton text-covered stele that resides in the British Museum in London. I bring this up not only because I recently had the chance to see this magnificent treasure firsthand, but because the Rosetta Stone is the perfect metaphor for something we think a lot about at Jive: corporate memory. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, corporate memory is, simply, all the accumulated knowledge and expertise within an organisation.
Studies on corporate memory have found that knowledge isn't just important in today's enterprise, it is "the organisation’s most valuable resource” (pdf). How valuable is it? A 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report found that knowledge workers spend 20 percent of their workweek “looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.” Another 28 percent of their time is wasted dealing with emails. The costs of all that lost productivity—an estimated $900 billion to 1.3 trillion annually—add up fast. That’s why I believe the Rosetta Stone is an apt analogy to explain the importance of corporate memory.
What might have been lost: secrets of an entire civilisation
The Rosetta Stone could easily have been literally lost to the sands of time. When the soldier, Pierre-François Bouchard, found it, the 3’9”x2’4”x11” slab of granodiorite had been repurposed as just another rock in the foundation of a fortress built by the Ottoman Empire near the town of Rosetta in the Nile Delta some three centuries earlier. But the Rosetta Stone’s history goes back much further—to 196 BC, when an Egyptian King, Ptolemy V, commissioned its creation to serve as a decree exempting the local priesthood from taxation. But it’s not what the Rosetta Stone says that makes it so significant; it’s how it says it.
Prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, Ancient Egypt—including its grand pyramids, gold-ensconced tombs and mummified pharaohs—was a total mystery. That’s because hieroglyphs, the written language of the Ancient Egyptians, was lost following Egypt’s fall to the Roman Empire in 30 BC. The Rosetta Stone changed all that. On its face were the same words carved in three unique scripts, including the mysterious hieroglyphs and Ancient Greek, which was a known language at the time. Even with all its clues, it still took a linguistic genius named Jean-François Champollion more than two decades to decipher the Rosetta Stone. In so doing, he unlocked the dazzling secrets of a civilisation that had vanished from the face of the earth 2,000 years earlier. Other than being a great story, you probably can see how the Rosetta Stone is connected to corporate memory.
Corporate memory: the organisation's most valuable resource
Today, much of the accrued knowledge you depend on every day is lost forever when employees change jobs or retire. In most organisations, even when workers stay, important information gets developed, used (hopefully) and then is almost immediately forgotten as teams and people move on to the next project or initiative. Worldwide, 47 percent of knowledge workers cite corporate amnesia as a problem in their organisations, according to a recent Harris survey commissioned by Jive. Unfortunately, too often, technology hinders the preservation of corporate memory more than it helps. According to the global survey, 29 percent of employees feel "overwhelmed" by email. Coincidentally, that's the same percentage of time workers spend each day simply searching for the information they need to do their jobs. That's often because popular productivity suites such as Microsoft Office 365 silo information within overlapping tools, and conversational apps like Slack can add more noise than insights. Important information gets buried in those impenetrable and indecipherable email message threads. No wonder workers feel overwhelmed.
This serious problem of fragmentation has been building for some time and will continue to grow as ever-more content gets created—especially now that Internet of Things (IoT) is adding exponentially more data into the mix. While some will argue that information-overload is the real problem, I couldn’t disagree more. Even if it were somehow possible to turn back the clock (which it isn’t), big data will transform our lives in positive ways that we are only now beginning to understand.
Establishing a Rosetta Stone for the enterprise
Fortunately, there is a solution that has a proven track record of improving corporate memory. A 2015 study led by professor Paul Leonardi at the University of California, Santa Barbara found that, in just six months, a collaboration hub considerably increased organisational “meta-knowledge.” By simply passively observing communications between colleagues and other teams within the platform, employees’ knowledge of “who knows what” improved by 31 percent. Not only that, their understanding of “who knows whom” jumped a whopping 88 percent! That then allowed them to more quickly locate and activate specific expertise and content across the entire organisation, while overcoming data silos and other common enterprise hurdles.
Soon, machine learning promises to offer workers “content in context” by anticipating their needs in advance. Today, predictive analytics is already helping leaders and employees identify experts in the organisation; while also providing valuable insights into how employees work together. The answer isn’t for leaders to bury their heads in the sand, but to construct their very own Rosetta Stone to capture, defragment and unlock all that powerful knowledge that’s just waiting to be unleashed in their organisations.
While it’s easy to create massive amounts of data in today’s enterprise, the challenge is to make it visible, searchable and memorable to the people who need it. Locating and using that information in all its forms—whether it’s analysing data, easily unearthing content or quickly locating subject-matter experts—is crucial to success in today’s world. Many companies are finding that a collaboration hub that connects employees, tools and systems across departments, organisational borders and even geographies is the answer to the corporate memory puzzle. The truth is, without some type of Rosetta Stone in your organisation, you risk becoming a footnote in the history books rather than the glorious enterprise you are destined to become. My question to you is this—how do you want to be remembered?
John Schneider, VP of Product Marketing at Jive Software, an Aurea company
Image source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional