Photo: Fortune magazine
Whether you are a first-time manager or have been supervising others for years, You Can’t Fire Everyone, And Other Lessons from an Accidental Manager by Hank Gilman is a must-read. As of this writing, it is the only useful “self-help” book on management I’ve ever read. Ever.Gilman, deputy managing editor at Fortune, is not a “management expert” in the traditional sense. He’s just a guy who’s been managing for more than two decades. The result? A hilariously honest book devoid of management jargon.
Confession: I actually enjoyed the book so much that I pulled an all-nighter to finish it. How many “business” books can you say that about?
Managing others isn’t easy, and Gilman doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Even though he’s a writer by trade, I was pleasantly surprised at how much he drew me in. I felt as though I was by his side–watching and listening–throughout his entire career. (Take that Journal-Inquirer!)
As an advocate of first-time managers in particular, I asked Gilman to provide me with his favourite tips for newbies from You Can’t Fire Everyone. His responses:
Supervising friends: If you’re promoted into a management job, you’re going to have to boss around your pals. I realised, soon after my first boss gig, that the good of the enterprise had to come first–and my friends second. It was a little lonelier, to be sure, but the pay was better.
Recruiting: The most important thing is to have a network of friends in other organisations. That way, you can find figure out the real story about a potential employee. Kind of a board of advisors.
Casting: Most of the mistakes I’ve made are the result of bad casting. In other words: Choosing the wrong person for the job. I like to say in my book that we’re always asking the short guy to dunk the basketball instead of going for the three-point play. I don’t know why managers do this. One of the great mysteries of management life.
Hiring sins: One is ignoring the early warning signs that you hired the wrong person. That’s why God invented the probation period.
Firing: It may seem strange, but I try to make sure I don’t make the process worse than it has to be for the employee. For example: I’ve told a few, to use another lame sports analogy, that we needed a shortstop but they were a better outfielder. I actually meant it–and they left feeling a little better about themselves.
Optics: You have to pay attention about how things appear to your employees. If you forget to say hello to someone in the hall, they might think you’re unhappy with their work. I kid you not. Don’t ever come to work with a bad back; who knows what might happen.
Good boss behaviour: Pay attention to your employees’ personal lives. I don’t mean really personal, but making sure their work doesn’t frequently cut into family time. Your good people will, trust me, find another place to work if their job ruins their home life.
Managing in a crisis: If you don’t handle a big problem well, you’ll end up with disgruntled employees. Being honest always helps. During one layoff period, I told workers I just didn’t know what would happen next: I might go, they might go, we both might go. It didn’t make them cheery, but it sure prepared them for what was coming next. It counted for something.
No small roles: This applies to any job, including management. Don’t immediately reject jobs or job opportunities that you think are beneath you. If you are asked to do a menial task, do it well. It will say something good about you.
For 200 or so pages that outline the path to becoming a great (or at least good) manager, definitely pick up a copy of You Can’t Fire Everyone for yourself and your staff. Your employees (and your bottom-line) will thank you for it.
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