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How Downsizing Affects Organizational Memory in Government: Some Implications for Professional and Organizational Development

Author: A. CAROL RUSAW
Published in PAQ, Vol. 28 No. 4

This paper examines some ways that downsizing can affect professional
and organizational development in government by posing some possible
scenarios based on social and organizational theories. The paper
maintains that the depletion of social capital in the past two decades may
lead to some predictable consequences in the future. For instance,
downsizing has necessitated incumbents’ having to playmultiple and often
conflicting roles: a condition that culminates in stress and burnout and,
eventually, to turnover. Because organizations carry little promise for
continued employment and advancement, career paths will be truncated;
“revolving doors” may happen, in which individuals cycle in and out of
government service frequently. The removal of individuals with
“institutional memory” may deplete the supply of mentors and coaches,
who provide both career advice as well as promote a common perspective
on organizational problems. The decline in organizational problem
solving ability, in turn, can lead to ways to “reinvent” mission and
essential programs. This may engender searches for fundamental values,
re-constructed heroic stories, and an emphasis on defining and getting “in
touch” with vital customers. The latter turn of reinvention is creative
rather than destructive, for it provides a means for regenerating a basis of
knowledge lost during downsizing. Hence, although downsizing may
reduce human resources and fuel organizational decline, ultimately, the
decline can lead to re-birth.

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