Are Outdated Policies Holding You Back?

“Your company's organizational memory might be holding it back,” business professor Vijay Govindarajan and retired management consultant Srikanth Srinivas cautioned in Harvard Business Review this week, offering advice that spans the for-profit and non-profit sectors.

According to Govindarajan and Srinivas, Organizational memory – the way we have always done things – can include “obsolete policies and practices, outdated assumptions and mind-sets, and underperforming products and services. This organizational memory creates biases that get embedded in planning processes, performance evaluation systems, organizational structures and human resource policies. This becomes a big burden when non-linear shifts occur.”

What policies and practices, perhaps unexamined for 20 years, are holding your institution back?

  • Do you audit policies and procedures in enrollment, financial aid, and academic support services regularly to identify policies that impede student success and progress toward their degree? (Read more in our article "Checking for Policies and Procedures that Impede Student Success.")
  • Have you examined whether time-honored policies around faculty evaluation and tenure and promotion are helping – or hindering – you in cultivating a rigorous and diverse faculty? (Read more in our article "Strategies for Supporting a Diverse Faculty.")
  • Do you still pour resources into a traditional model for delivering developmental or remedial education, despite a low completion rate? (Read about the alternative approaches in our recent monthly edition, "Why Rethinking Developmental Education is a Priority.")

As the pace of change accelerates and the challenges your institution faces becoming increasingly complex, an even more critical question might be: How do you encourage leaders throughout your institution to question long-held assumptions?

Without letting go of the strengths of your institution’s hard-won and extensive experience (after all, a college’s “organizational memory,” unlike a dot-com’s, is measured in decades or even centuries), it’s time to ensure that your planning and budgeting processes as well as your systems for hiring, training, and evaluation are welcoming of disruptive and innovative questions and ideas.