Corporate Confidential is the book every career consultant (like me) needs to share with her clients. It’s not your standard happy-cheerleader self-help book. Nearly every page contains solid advice in an unabashed how-to style. Shapiro makes no effort to soften her message. Like it or not, she says, here’s how the world of work operates in the 21st century.
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.