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How the Absence of an Archives Could Hurt Your Company in the Long Run

October 25, 2022 • History Factory

We’ve been known to wax poetic about the amazing benefits of a formal archival system for global enterprise organizations. After all, it’s easy and fun to talk about the advantages. (If you need a refresher, start here.)

Though less fun, it’s just as important to talk about what happens when you don’t have an archives. Warning: It’s messy.

From undermining your company culture to cutting into your bottom line, not investing in a formal archival system can wreak havoc on an otherwise healthy organization. Here are five ways that not having an archives can hurt your company.

1. You Could Lose Touch With Your Culture and Employees

According to a 2022 Gallup poll, employee engagement has declined from last year on a variety of metrics. One of the elements that decreased the most was employees’ feeling of “connection to the mission or purpose of their organization.”

This should be a wake-up call for your employee engagement efforts.

In the midst of a changing market and economic and social upheaval, it’s easy for employees to stop feeling like they’re a part of something bigger if you’re not actively working to make that the case.

A big part of an effective engagement strategy is storytelling. But it’s hard to tell stories when you don’t have anything tangible to anchor them—and that’s where an archives comes into play.

A comprehensive, well-maintained archives is a treasure trove of storytelling material. The photographs, documents, prototypes and more that make up a collection have illuminating, provocative, insightful stories behind them just waiting to be told. Those stories forge a connection between your organization’s proud history and the contributions that your employees are making in the present. Those stories help create a deeper emotional connection to your company’s legacy, values and future.

An archives can also provide critical support during times of cultural upheaval. In a crisis, during a leadership transition or succession planning, or when you’re onboarding new employees, artifacts have the power to orient. Materials from your collection have unmatched potential when it comes to creating context, providing guidance and demonstrating what your company and its heritage are all about.

Just ask Taylor Clark from USAA. He’s been known to bring the original minutes from the 1922 meeting in San Antonio where the financial services company was established to new employee orientations and big internal meetings. Unsurprisingly, the historical document strikes a chord with everyone who sees it. It’s a tangible anchor to the company’s founding values and centurylong legacy of service.

2. Important Documents and Assets May Be at Risk

You likely have a records management process to handle your important documents, files and data. That’s a great start—and one you can build on with a well-maintained and organized archives.

Records management is a valuable organizational function, but its purpose is to manage information and records from their creation to their eventual disposal—or preservation in an archives. That’s right: You still need an archives in order to retain materials that have permanent value to your organization. And who better to oversee those archives than a professional archivist whose job it is to ensure your historical assets are easy to access and thoughtfully protected?

Not only does keeping your documents in the care of an archivist ensure their usability, keeping your assets in a controlled environment is critical to preserving their quality. Unfortunately, records management facilities aren’t designed like purpose-built archival facilities and therefore aren’t a worthy substitute when it comes to maintaining your company’s most valuable assets.

Aside from the risk of losing or damaging original documents, the absence of a formal archives could be a costly liability down the road. If your business is sued or faces an investigation, for example, you may need to be able to quickly retrieve relevant original documents in order to avoid punitive fines or other consequences.

3. Not Having an Organized Archives Is A PR Liability

Not having an archives means not knowing what’s part of your company’s past. And being unaware of your organizational history means you’re less likely to be prepared to answer for any skeletons in your closet if they’re revealed in the larger public space.

Unsavory facts about companies of all sizes and ages come to light all the time. No one is perfect, and that goes for organizations too—but having an archives that contains not only these unfortunate details but any surrounding context means you’ll be better prepared to help shape the narrative and defend your company and its reputation. And according to research by global marketing communications firm Weber Shandwick, 63% of a company’s market value is tied to its reputation—making this even more crucial.
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4. The Digital Black Hole Could Be Swallowing Your Heritage

Your company creates a staggering amount of digital information  on a daily basis—far too much to reasonably store in physical form. So what happens to all of it?

If you don’t have a formal organization-wide collection plan and archival process, essential data and pieces of cultural heritage might get sucked into the irretrievable void—otherwise known as the digital black hole.

Just like your grade school art projects, there’s plenty of digital information that it’s not important to keep. (After all, everything you archive takes up space—and digital storage isn’t free.) However, without a collection plan, it’s easy to overlook the “keepers” and lose important data and key pieces of institutional memory.

That’s why a formalized process for collecting and archiving your digital information is critical. And without an archives, that’s much harder to codify and enact.

5. The Longer You Wait To Set Up an Archives, the Harder It Is

Your archives is too important to be one of those budgetary items that are viewed as “nice to have” rather than mandatory. Instead, it should be considered a keystone of your company’s assets and reflected as such when it comes time to submit your requests—not least because waiting to establish an archives will cost you in more ways than one.

Here’s why:

  • Your organization will keep generating assets while you dither, and many of them will likely be in decentralized locations. If your company is global, for example, so are your assets—and they’ll just keep growing and evolving, as will the cost of collecting and codifying them. In short, the longer you wait, the harder and more expensive it is.
  • What isn’t preserved now may be lost for good. While it’s sometimes possible to recover documents and data, that isn’t always the case. Plus, it can be much more expensive to do so than to preserve them in the first place.

 

  • Building an archives all at once is more expensive than gradually adding to your collection over time. Waiting until you have a huge backlog of assets to collect, codify and preserve means you’ll need more resources, both human and financial, to achieve such a monumental task. Building a regular practice, however, makes archival maintenance much easier—logistically and financially.
  • Supply chain issues aren’t going away anytime soon. That means the cost of creating the proper archival space your assets deserve can become more prohibitive and time-consuming as delays impact project schedules.

The Sooner You Invest in an Archives, the Sooner You’ll See ROI

Those are a lot of downsides, but we have some good news to help balance them out: You can avoid all of these negative repercussions by investing in an archival system sooner rather than later.

Plus, once your archives is established, you can rest easy knowing your company’s priceless artifacts, documents and assets are preserved, cared for and easily accessible. With a gold mine of storytelling material you can use to boost employee engagement, reinforce culture and values, and chart a path for the future, you’ll wax poetic, too.

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