Battling The Heartbreak Of 'COS'

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Something happens to people when they've been in the corporate office for awhile.

They have a tendency to feel and act smarter. They forget where they came from. And they often don't make the time to stay in touch with the people in the field who deal with the customer every day, the people who make the organization run.

For some in corporate management it is much worse. These unfortunate few are afflicted with an incurable case of Corporate Office Syndrome, or COS, a disease that is often fatal to one's career.

The most obvious symptom of COS is "cranium gigantus ," in which the head expands to the point where a person can no longer hear the voices of others, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get in or out of one's office or car. Whencranium gigantus sets in, the career succumbs, because there is always someone who feels obligated to deflate that cranium.

What happens to people when they get to the corporate office? Why do people forget where they came from? How did they all of a sudden become so much smarter?

COS takes a terrible toll, not only on individuals, but the company as a whole. It destroys morale and is often a sign of a business on the decline.

To calculate your score, give yourself 1 point for each "a" answer, 2 points for each "b," 3 points for each "c," and 4 points for every "d."

If you scored between 0 and 6: Congratulations! You are free of COS! You value your people and find their input a valuable tool in determining the needs of the company and your customers.

If you scored between 7 and 12: Warning! You have the beginnings of COS. This means that the cement has been poured but hasn't set yet. Quickly get into several stores this week and talk to as many hourly associates and department managers as possible. This will have a counter-effect and cause the cement to liquefy, freeing you from the grip of COS.

If you scored between 13 and 18: Danger! You have full-blown COS. It is not too late, but if you don't act quicklycranium gigantus will begin to set in. Come down off your throne and get into a store immediately. As you are in the advanced stages, you must also decontaminate your mind by actually performing the jobs of various employees in the stores for an hour or two. This will bring you back into the real world and quickly make you realize that you have been living in La-La Land. If this doesn't work, hang on and proceed to the next paragraph.

If you scored 19 or higher: My condolences. You havecranium gigantu s, and at this point all hope is lost. You have not a clue as to what customers like or dislike about your stores, nor have any idea what your people's needs are. Even worse, you do not value their opinions. You are a legend in your own mind. This stage of COS is terminal, and it will only be a matter of time before the guy with the pin finds you, pops your head and flattens your career.

So what have we learned? A promotion to the corporate office can be exciting, but it can also be a career-ending move. The keys to success, in or out of the corporate office, include:

  • Visiting stores regularly.
  • Asking lots of questions of store management, the hourly workers and, let us not forget, the customers.
  • Listening closely to what they tell you.

Help stamp out COS in our lifetime. Stay in touch with reality.

Bill Stuart is president of Stuart & Associates, a retail/manufacturer consultancy specializing in returns reduction, extended warranties and training. For more information, call (615) 371-9322 or visit the company's website at


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