Spotlight: OM in HR and Ops at Prizmah

When Prizmah became an organization five years ago, one challenge was that the organizational memories of five different entities had to be merged into one institution. In the beginning, part of my job was to preserve the memories of each organization in order to seed the foundations of NewOrg, as we were called before we had a name. Who were our constituents? What were our programs? Where and how did we store this information? As NewOrg became Prizmah, and our missions, visions and programming collided and evolved, my job also included thinking about preserving Prizmah’s organizational memory.

First, a definition. According to Wikipedia, “organizational memory” (OM) (sometimes called institutional or corporate memory) is the accumulated body of data, information, and knowledge created in the course of an individual organization’s existence.” I think of OM in two ways: the information held and shared by people, and the information held and shared by systems.

From a people perspective, OM is preserved at Prizmah in a few ways. As a young organization, Prizmah still has people on staff who came from the founding organizations as well as people who came aboard very early on. This group of staff can speak to the pre-Prizmah agencies, as well the early history of the organization, through to today. Additionally, as new people join the staff, not only does orientation cover the necessary (How do I access my paycheck?), the basics (How do I log into my email?), and the culture (How do staff communicate internally?), but also enables new staff to interact with a variety of people. In the first few weeks of their employment at Prizmah, new staff members meet with their own teams and also with other teams to hear about work at Prizmah that they might not be involved with on a day-to-day basis.

Furthermore, we encourage staff to touch base both formally and informally. In Slack, for example, we use the Donut app which randomly pairs people for informal “coffee” chats. Staff are able to hear about the work that others are doing and also learn about their colleagues’ lives beyond Prizmah. Staff meetings and staff retreats also give opportunities for sharing our work as well as for cross-organizational collaboration. Finally, all of our retreats have included unplanned downtime, enabling staff to share more informally.

With all of this talk, though, the systems we use to record and preserve these conversations and our work is the other half of the organizational equation. Over the years, I have reviewed and often revamped our systems to not only improve collaboration, but also to preserve our institutional memory. For example, we use Box for file storage and collaboration. From the beginning of Prizmah, I created folders to hold the information of our legacy organizations. I also created folders to house current programming. Much of the legacy programmatic information was moved into current folders so that everyone could access the information.

Additionally, permissions for these folders are designed to maximize transparency for staff. Not only is programmatic (both current and defunct) information open to all but similarly with the administration folder. A new staff person, for example, could peruse through or watch old staff meetings, which are found in the administration folder, or read through a program’s marketing that no longer exists. Finally, on a more technical side of Box, we also have document holds set up that comply with best practices and serve as yet another way to preserve OM.

Another tool that Prizmah uses, as mentioned, is Slack, and here too the organization of our channels and the way we use it sustains OM. For example, we have a group of channels that are primarily used by specific teams, but are purposely open so that anyone can drop in and see the projects of that team. The channels are designed to hold the entire history of a conversation, so someone can join at any time and understand not only current conversations but also any conversation in that channel’s history. Additionally, during orientation all new staff are encouraged to join multiple channels to better understand Prizmah’s history and ongoing programming.

These tools, which are designed to share and collaborate in real time, help preserve the OM even as we continue to grow.

Over the years, I have watched Prizmah evolve. My job has continued to be keeping my eyes forward on growth as well as backward to preserve our history. Five years into Prizmah’s existence, I appreciate both the people and the systems that connect us daily and preserve our OM.

Author
Alisha Goodman, Prizmah's Senior Director, Operations and Technology
Issue
Organizational Memory
Published: Fall 2021