Don’t Overlook Office History

Don’t Overlook Office History

You have just begun a new job. While it is new to you, several other individuals have held the position previously. All that’s left of their efforts and time of employment are a few file drawers of old documents and some files stored on the hard drive. You are anxious to get settled in and make the office space your own. You would like to get rid of the saved files. Can you just toss them, or can they be put in a file box and stored somewhere?

The leftover files may be useless—or they may hold important history related to your job. They deserve a closer look. Many clues to future success are hidden in plain sight. So, too, are possible pitfalls.

For example, you may have been hired to direct a special project. You already have some ideas about how you want to proceed. Reading through your predecessor’s files, however, may show that a similar approach was tried last year, and management vetoed it. That’s not to say that you can’t refine the approach and be successful, but it would help if you could understand a bit more about management’s decision.

In addition to those files, your new office may contain a manual of operations, copies of past annual reports, or a collection of the previous Board minutes and activities. Taking some time to read historical documents can be time well spent. The better you understand your organization, the more successful you can be.

If you were lucky enough to receive an update memo from the previous employee, take time to read it carefully. As warranted, discuss items with your supervisor and coworkers. That’s also a way to get to meet others and to get their input on past efforts that may or may not help you determine your future direction.

One of the biggest errors new employees make is moving too fast and making assumptions without a factual basis. The more quickly you can learn about your new place of employment, the better you will understand the culture, the impediments, and the opportunities. So slow down just a bit, and take time to review those files and other documents.

As philosophers and experts have told us for centuries, knowledge is closely linked to power. Something else to remember is that history holds a power of its own. Learning and understanding the history of your organization is one way to enhance your knowledge base. This, in turn, helps build your professional power base, which is what will allow you, eventually, to make your own history.

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