There's a business phenomenon when someone in an organization says, does, decides, or advocates something one day, only to conveniently forget about it later, when it doesn't serve their personal interests. My good friend, Tony Vannicola, labeled this business phenomenon, "corporate amnesia."

Corporate amnesia infects different organizations and different people at different rates. How frequently corporate amnesia happens varies based on how much pressure there is in an organization and the underlying political environment.

We ran into major case of corporate amnesia during a combined conference call and in-person meeting recently. An individual who had provided very specific direction previously sat quietly, letting silence disclaim any responsibility for having made a decision contrary to the direction we were now receiving from another person.

I was on the phone without an ability to see faces and body language. This made it difficult to manage the business conversation back to our previous meeting and the very specific direction we'd received. Our challenge was compounded because we hadn't laid the strategic groundwork to protect ourselves, so shame on us.

What could we have done differently during the project to better combat corporate amnesia?

Here are nine strategies available to us and you if you're facing a business situation where you think corporate amnesia will surface:

  • Stay super organized and focus on project management. Maintain very complete files with easy-to-locate drafts and interim documents.
  • Over-communicate, especially for someone who "loses" documents. Make sure you can retrieve key documents whenever you need them for verification.
  • Avoid one-on-one conversations with the person who has corporate amnesia. Pair up and have joint conversations so you have someone else to corroborate what transpired in a business meeting.
  • At the start of business meetings, review or post a list of decisions made previously.  Reference the list whenever you need it during the meeting.
  • Instead of waiting for approval deadlines which may be ignored, identify dates by which, if input isn't received, you will continue to move forward with the current strategic direction.
  • Complete post-discussion and business meeting recaps highlighting decisions, relevant information shared, and any other agreements. Distribute it to everyone involved.
  • Only pin someone down publicly for corporate amnesia if you absolutely must. It's much better to do it privately.
  • If you must call someone on corporate amnesia in a bigger meeting, introduce what really happened with a shred of uncertainty (I.e., "If I recall correctly, I think what happened was . . ."). This allows someone to regain their memory while saving a little face.
  • Never forget people who display corporate amnesia and set your strategy accordingly when working with them.

Have you had to deal with "corporate amnesia"? What's worked for you? – Mike Brown

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