This review first ran in the May 8th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

You Can't Fire Everyone

By Hank Gilman

Portfolio ($32.50)

Congratulations on your promotion and welcome to middle management.

For your orientation, here’s a quick introduction to your new team.

Kent has a great sense of humour that will be entirely at your expense.

Jane mostly keeps to herself, although her recurring bouts of silent sobbing will, if ignored or acknowledged, become full-on meltdowns that weird out the rest of the staff.

George had an incredibly productive year once back in the early 1980s and is overdue for a comeback.

Brenda is a fiercely loyal and devoted follower whose allegiance is to the manager we fired so we could hire you.

Rick is a real go-getter who’s well on his way to reaching 100,000 followers and 10,000 tweets on his “Things I’d rather be doing than working” Twitter feed.

Kate is a freshly minted grad and academic all-star who considers our organization and whatever work you try to assign to be beneath her and unworthy of her attention.

And Phil has moved past denial at not getting your job and has moved straight to anger.

So, welcome aboard. And while it’s last minute and your first day on the job, could you please submit your annual departmental budget with a 15 per cent clawback by 4 p.m. today?

Like parenting, there’s no instruction manual that comes with managing. And while there’s no shortage of advice, theory rarely translates into practice.

Hank Gilman can relate. He was a rock-solid, major league journalist who was promoted to editor with no training provided. Twenty years later and now the deputy managing editor at Fortune magazine, Gilman is sharing what he learned through trial and error in his book, You Can’t Fire Everyone.

“If any human resources type could be honest with you for a second, they’d tell you their company was filled with folks who have no clue how to be good bosses and make their people better at what they do,” says Gilman. “They scream, discourage, hire the wrong people, take all the credit for great work and blame their employees for their own mistakes. Most of them don’t even know how to fire someone the right way. Some of this misbehaviour can be blamed on really warped personalities. But the biggest problem is that no one ever trained them how to be good bosses — or any sort of bosses, for that matter.”

So here are some highlights from Gilman’s guide to effective managing in the real world.

You can’t be both boss and friend. Loneliness, says Gilman, is the penalty of leadership. “You can never have good, close friends on your staff once you start being their boss. If you’re doing your job the way you’re supposed to, you’ll invariably do something to fracture the relationship.”

Drop the myth that all employees are created equal. Treat your stars differently. “The hardest part of the job is making sure your most important employees stay happy and you get the most out of them.” Let your stars work from home on occasion, give them a nicer office and some extra time off. Above all, says Gilman, give them interesting work. “Your stars do the best work, typically are the hardest workers and tackle the projects with the highest degree of difficulty. They’re also a rare commodity.”

Avoid the cardinal sin of casting the right people for the wrong job. “It’s the ‘asking the short guy to dunk the basketball’ thing,” says Gilman. “The very worst thing you can do for anyone is put them in a position where they’re sure to fail.” Trust your gut. You’ll know what your staff can and can’t handle. Doling out assignments on the hope that your staff will rise to the challenge is a bad idea that will lead to predictable results.

Firing employees is unpleasant, unavoidable and one of the most important parts of your job, says Gilman. Terminate quickly. Don’t leave staff languishing in jobs they have no hope of excelling at.

And don’t delegate the dirty work. “The best bosses always do the firing themselves. They want to show the rest of the staff that they’re not afraid to take on unpleasant tasks. You do not want to be perceived as a wimp.”

Always pay attention to how things look. Optics matter. “In boss land, how you behave and how things look is more important than almost everything else.”

Stand up for your staff. “Management is a lot about conflicts,” says Gilman. “Probably the toughest thing a manager has to do is stick up for his or her employees — largely because there’s not a lot of upside in terms of your own career advancement.” Don’t shy away from the unpleasant confrontations behind the scenes with your boss and peers.

One final piece of advice from Gilman. Don’t force your employees to abandon their families. “When workers feel like they have to ignore their husbands and wives and miss their kids’ after-school events because their boss has those expectations — or sets those expectations through example — that’s a big problem.”

Clock punching is silly, says Gilman. He doesn’t care when his staff come in. He doesn’t care when they leave or how many hours they put in. He only cares about getting the job done right and on time.

If you’re new to the management ranks, or looking for a new approach to leading the troops, give Gilman’s book a read. He’ll make your life easier with some battle-tested, practical advice.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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