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Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know---and What to Do About Them Paperback – August 25, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
"Your number one job is to keep your job," Shapiro, a former human resources executive, writes in this informed and disillusioned take on the corporate life, so don't ever "publicly complain, disagree or express a negative view," take more than one week of vacation at a time, "volunteer," or "tell anyone what you're doing." When asked to do anything, acceptable responses are "sure" and "of course," always accompanied by a smile. Your dress style "should match as closely as possible the style of those at the top." Don't make friends at work-it's "deadly" to want to be liked. The book reads like a guerilla survival manual for the employment jungle written by a hardened survivor ("Do you feel there's something...looming over your career, but can't quite put your finger on it? It's not your imagination. It's real."), and explains why companies preach enlightened attitudes-but don't practice them-and why managers and co-workers will not tell you about your career-limiting moves. Though Shapiro's this-is-war outlook may fit some workplaces, her mercenary advice won't work for people whose number one job is to get a job that doesn't require these sacrifices.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“A business book that reads like a page-turner. What a concept. The author's startling and thought-provoking insights make this a must-read wake-up call for all employees who want to know the truth about how their ‘promotability' is decided. Read it and reap.” ―Sam Horn, author of Tongue Fu! and Take the Bully by the Horns
“Corporate Confidential is a great resource for all levels, from new entrants to executives. Shapiro’s list of the most common mistakes managers can make, and how to avoid them, is a must-read for anyone interested in getting to the top―and staying there.” ―Tony Lee, editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal’s CareerJournal.com and CollegeJournal.com
“What you don't know can hurt you, especially in Corporate America. This is the eye-opening book every employee needs to read.” ―Lewis Maltby, President of the National Workrights Institute
“Corporate Confidential lifts the lid of the cauldron and lets employees see what's really going on inside their organizations whether they know it or not. But this book isn't just for employees. Smart executives and managers will treat this as a must-read for the good of their companies and their careers as well.” ―Tony Lee, editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal’s CareerJournal.com and CollegeJournal.com
“a terrific book...a must-read for anyone intent on managing career risk.” ―Anne Fisher
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I have never in my 20 years in HR encountered the despicable practices that the author states are common place. Here is my email that I attempted to send the author:
Cynthia- I'm certain this isn't the only email that you have gotten regarding your 20/20 appearance from an HR Professional. I'm so disappointed in your interview. I've worked in HR for many years and although not everyone that I have worked with has maintained high ethical standards or practices, the vast majority have been hard working professionals that try their best to strike the balance between protecting the interests of the company and representing the employees. I have never, at any point in time, encountered the practices you discussed in your interview. I certainly don't question your honesty and assume that you have in your career but I am also certain that you are well aware that these practices are the exception and not the rule.
You indicate that you want to protect the best interests of women and yet you threw under the bus the thousands of women that work in the female dominated HR profession. I shudder to think now what my co-workers think of my department if they saw your interview. It really is so disappointing to me that you couldn't even bother to mention that these practices represent the worst of HR. It's a shame to think that the people we work hard for could now have a tainted view of what we do.
So thanks so much for defaming myself and my hard laboring HR co-workers, both past and present, who spend time away from their own families trying to make their way in the professional world and who conduct themselves with integrity and dignity.
Cynthia Shapiro, a career HR director, intends for Corporate Confidential to be a tell-all full of the seedy truths about what's really going on in your organization. The writing has an alarmist tone. Within the first few pages you'll be convinced that your entire career is in jeopardy if not already ruined. The easily spooked need not apply.
She reveals information in the form of various secrets to which she's been privy. Many of these secrets line up with what I've seen in my decade-plus career, but many don't. I've never worked at a company that even had "improvement plans", though I was familiar with them and their true purpose.
Sweeping generalities abound, and sometimes there's no logical fix from a career misstep. For example, when she talks about boss interactions, she says that if you ever cross your boss, your career is utterly ruined as your boss will ensure that your reputation follows you long after they or you have left. That leaves literally no corrective action. Furthermore, that perspective strikes me as extreme.
Yet, for all of the author's cynicism, most of her fixes are as mundane as they are familiar: Do good work, don't cause trouble, learn to work well with difficult people, understand your organization and help it shine, and the like. For a book supposedly full of Corporate Black Magic secrets, that felt like a let down.
I do think the book has a lot of value, especially for younger people new to the workforce. I'd advise against taking the extremism presented in the book to heart, but some of the points and advice are helpful. That's not to say anything the author has presented is untrue or never happens, but I think a saner approach would be to weigh your company against Shapiro's secrets and make your own judgments.
Shapiro seems uniquely qualified to write this book, due to her background in Human Resources. And she's not afraid to say out loud what we've always suspected: The HR people are not your friends. They're protecting the company -- not you!
Shapiro's message can be summed up in one sentence. Whenever you're dealing with your company you're on the stage. Don't let your guard down, whether you're at a party or a one-on-one informal meeting. Watch your email. Don't make waves, gossip or sound negative.
If all this advice sounds elementary, you have never been a career consultant! Many of my savvy, sophisticated, experienced clients have trouble recognizing these rules. Even more resist. Some, like me, know all the rules but can't bring ourselves too follow them. Eventually we end up working for ourselves, with all the pluses and minuses.
This book explains why so many employees hire coaches and consultants to gain access to a confidential confidante -- a safety valve, sounding board and objective outsider. When you open up to someone off the job, you're more likely to keep quiet on the job. That's worth everything you pay an outsider and more.
Shapiro does not paint a pretty or pleasant picture. Need vacation? Take one week at a time. Take your second week six months later. Having a baby? You may or may not be eligible for Family Leave...and you have to work twice as hard when you return. Getting older? Take half your allotted sick days...fewer if possible.
In some ways, I'd actually move to higher levels of paranoia.
"Watch your expense account!" Shapiro urges. But I would go further. On the road, you'll often enjoy a couple of drinks and a movie in your room. Arrange to be billed separately so your company never sees these expenses. Alcohol should appear only as authorized client entertainment and nobody will believe you watched a G-rated Disney feature. Why give the accountants a good laugh?
Also, I would urge employees to study their own cultures. Shapiro gives hints, e.g., qualities of promoted managers will tell you about a company's values (p. 44). But I'd be wary of blanket principles, like, "It's okay to refuse a promotion." In some companies, you'd be signing your own pink slip.
And if the boss works late on a big project, Shapiro says, hang around and offer to be helpful. Well, if you're a female, be extra careful about sending the wrong signals to a male boss as you hang around in the evening, offering to make copies and send out for pizza. Even if you're totally innocent, your loyalty could be misinterpreted.
Finally, Shapiro continues to reflect the corporate party line, even as she's drawing back a curtain to reveal the truth. She encourages us to assume that companies make rational decisions, so if you follow the rules, you'll be rewarded.
Most of the time that assumption will be accurate. Certainly expressing this assumption aloud will show you're loyal.
But companies all too often have hidden agendas. You can be targeted for a layoff because your boss's boss wants to nail your own manager and you're a pawn. You may have been hired with the hope that you'll fail because management doesn't want to invest too much in your product line. You may be fired because of a merger arranged halfway around the world. You could be transferred to Outer Nowhere and fired two weeks later. You could take on a humongous overload in an emergency and then get fired because you didn't perform effectively.
But as Shapiro says, most of time we sow our own seeds of destruction: a show of disrespect, an extra drink at an official party, a discussion of personal life, a toy bear on your desk, an offensive style of dressing or ...well, you name it. She could have underlined her warning to avoid hints of any illegal or unethical conduct, even jokingly. A friendly puff of illegal substances at a party and now you're labeled a drug dealer.
To be sure, some companies can be incredibly warm, sensitive and caring. Clients tell me of getting amazing support during anything from nervous breakdowns to childbirth.
However, if this book really makes you feel ill, I recommend picking up a handful of books about starting your own business. But leave them at home -- not even in your briefcase! And hire your own listeners to talk about your dreams. You'll save a fortune in the long run.