Perpetuating Corporate False Memory Syndrome?

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“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

In this post I’ll be musing on the way in which service providers might be complicit in perpetuating unhelpful narratives that have become received wisdom within their client organisations. Without in any way wishing to belittle a condition that is a blight on the lives of those suffering from it, I think there are similarities of definition that can be instructive.

False memory syndrome is defined as:
A condition in which a person’s identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual’s entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behavior. False Memory Syndrome is especially destructive because the person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might challenge the memory. Thus it takes on a life of its own, encapsulated and resistant to correction. The person may become so focused on memory that he or she may be effectively distracted from coping with the real problems in his or her life

Substitute business for person/individual and we come close to seeing very real parallels with the way in which the client organisation often tells the story of how they came to be the way they are. In many cases, this will include a false reading of the failings of previous service providers. In a highly competitive market place, the newly incumbent provider may find it serves their purpose to perpetuate a misplaced interpretation of the previous provider’s perceived shortcomings (whilst inwardly noting “there but for the grace of god go I”) or to leave the those stories unchallenged.

The excellent @projectlibero posted recently (http://projectlibero.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/coaches-not-editors/) on the need for coaches not to be editors of their clients’ narratives. Whilst I broadly agree with what he says, I do feel rather differently about the potential for co-editing corporate narratives when received wisdom could be stopping a business from moving forward effectively. For the new provider to be successful, they need to cut through to the issues that are barriers to the client acheiving their aims and address them together if they are to avoid the same pitfalls when contracts are up for renewal/renegotiation. Where false narratives are deeply embedded in the culture of an organisation, the provider has to work an awful lot harder to gain momentum and be an instigator for lasting change. This is particularly important when the client states cultural or behavioural change as one of their aims.

The challenge for service providers or consultants is to identify these false narratives or collective memories and to be forthright with clients when they ring untrue, staying objective and to start to develop new narratives that reflect the newly self-aware organisation.

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