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Book Review: Corporate confidential by Cynthia Shapiro

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2nd Nov 2011
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I found reading this book to be a particularly depressing experience and had to force myself to get anywhere near the end. My advice to other potential readers would be not to bother.

Cynthia Shapiro was a senior HR manager in various US organisations and had to get involved in some pretty dirty business to satisfy their corporate aims. On changing career, she thought it would be helpful (and possibly lucrative?) to write about the various tactics that companies use to deal with those who do not fit in.  Her stated aim was to advise employees of these tactics so that they could take pre-emptive action. I suspect, however, that the effect of such advice would be different depending on the readership. Anyone at the start of an HR career, for example, would be likely to have all their ideals destroyed and, if choosing not to adopt such cynical behaviour, might well take up another career. In this book, HR managers are presented as two-faced, devious, manipulating and untrustworthy agents of their employers. Anyone looking for a job in a large company, on the other hand, would probably decide on self-employment as a safer option as the corporate world is portrayed as a dangerous jungle in which only bullies, creeps and toadies survive. Of the five chapters, the first three describe the various ways that organisations treat their less-valued staff. The book is subtitled ‘50 secrets your company doesn’t want you to know – and what to do about them’, although the emphasis is most definitely on the negative part of the equation.   Hostile environment The basic premise seems to be that managers are the most evil beings imaginable, against whom staff need to protect themselves. For example, one section begins: ‘If you’ve been given a new boss, you must take protective action immediately’.   Although these chapters end with a summary of actions that staff could take to help themselves, they might reasonably question ‘why bother in such a hostile environment?’ The fourth chapter has a slightly more positive tone and provides a few constructive thoughts and hints for those taking over a team. But the fifth and final chapter then reverts to type by warning of the usually fatal perils of being over-promoted. While the cover of the book is stamped with: ‘This book could save your career’ in red, I doubt that anyone would be encouraged to think around the issues raised in a positive way. Instead they would probably come away more motivated and enlightened by reading Richard Templar’s readable guide to ‘The Rules of Work’. Both books are concerned with politics within organisations, but Templar’s would be the one more likely to help someone get results in my view. Incidentally, although the back cover of Shapiro’s book carried pricing in pounds sterling, it is written entirely in American English and appears to be aimed solely at that market. ‘Firing’ may now, regrettably, be part of UK English, but the text is littered with terms such as ‘in most states’, ‘at-will employment’, ‘lawsuit’, ‘attorneys’, ‘layoff’, ‘pink slip’, ‘MVP’ and so on.  A glossary really should have been provided as not all of these expressions have an obvious or even apparent meaning. But if this book reflects the true shape of things in the US, then may the gods help us all if the UK continues to believe that the transatlantic way of business is best.

  • The reviewer this time was Jeremy Badcock, business manager at Redlands Surgery and director of consultancy, JLB HR.
  • If you'd like to read a book and pen a review for HRzone.co.uk, please go to the Book club page and email [email protected] with your choice to get started.

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