Doing the Tough Stuff: What Managers Can Learn From (Gulp!) Kim Kardashian

It’s troubling what passes for management wisdom these days, so I’ve learned to not be picky and simply take it where I find it.

And believe it or not, this week I found it in a most unusual and unexpected place: from celebrity whatever-she-does Kim Kardashian.

I know, I know; I can hear your reaction from wherever you may be reading this. You’re probably asking: How can someone with no discernible skills (except marketing herself and her very lack of discernible skills) teach us anything at all about management?

Knowing when to simply move on

Well, here’s how: Kim Kardashian may not have any tangible or apparent skills, but she clearly has sharp instincts. And those instincts told her that it was time to cut the cord and dump her basketball player husband sooner (after 72 days of marriage) rather than later.

Say what you will about the timing, the brusqueness, or her lack of faith in the institution of marriage, but she figured out it wasn’t working and that hubby Kris Humphries needed to go — now! — before he got any more settled in.

Here’s how she put it, according to USA Today:

“After careful consideration, I have decided to end my marriage,” she said in a statement. “I hope everyone understands this was not an easy decision. I had hoped this marriage was forever, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned.”

Truer words were never spoken. Yes, sometimes things don’t work out as planned, and it is never an easy decision when you need to deal with something involving another person that has gone bad quickly.

But as a manager who has seen more than his share of bad hires turn into bad employees that lingered on and were a terrible struggle to get rid of, I applaud Kim K’s ability to rationally size up the situation and coolly dump hubby Kris Humphries before his 90-day probationary period ran out. She could teach a lot of managers a thing or two about cutting your losses and decisively dealing with a bad hire, I’m sure.

5 ways this matters to managers and HR

Here’s how this all fits with your hiring, management, and HR practices:

  • Nobody likes making a bad hire, but nobody who hires is ever perfect. Hockey great Wayne Gretzsky famously said, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” but his point is that if you try, you sometimes are going to fail. Yes, everybody misses sometime. The best you can do when you do is to own up to the failure and make sure you don’t compound it by letting the mistake drag you and everyone else around them down. Cutting the cord — swiftly and humanely — is always the best way to handle it.
  • No one, especially a kind and caring person, wants to write a person off. I get it; you don’t want to toy with a person’s life and livelihood. Everybody deserves a second chance, and sometimes more than that. If you’re caring at all, you don’t want to jump to conclusions. That’s all well and fine, but my experience is that this sort of thinking is simply rationalization. You’re trying to avoid the dirty work, the bad stuff, the tough conversation, but all you are really doing is delaying the inevitable.
  • You probably know you made a bad hire early in the game, maybe before anyone else does. I have experienced this feeling firsthand, and it is terribly unsettling because it goes against every instinct you have to not overreact and make a hasty decision about someone you invested a lot of time in before deciding to bring on board. But, if your managerial instincts are good, you probably can see the bad ending before anyone else. When that happens, pull the trigger and get on with it.
  • Do the dirty deed before the bad hire gets settled in. Most companies, even non-union ones, have a probationary period of some sort — usually 90 days, sometimes more. Managers generally have wide discretion to get rid of someone during this time frame, but I’ve seen too many supervisors let the probationary deadline come and go despite very real evidence that someone they just hired was not working out. Waiting past this period only makers things harder — in just about every way possible.
  • Keeping someone around who should really go just makes it difficult on everyone else. If someone isn’t working, you may know it first, but the rest of the team working around then probably will figure it out soon thereafter. Failing to act decisively simply hurts your team, and makes them question your judgment too. They look to you to do the right thing, no matter how tough, when needed. Are you manager enough to do it?

A hoax or publicity ploy?

Some think this decision by Kim Kardashian to divorce hubby #2 is just a hoax or publicity ploy. I don’t buy the hoax argument, because it would mean that the entire Kardashian clan would have had to have been in on it. I don’t think even that self-absorbed bunch is capable of that level of deception. And even if they were, could such a mouthy family keep it a secret for this long?

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The publicity ploy also doesn’t ring true, because this family is pretty good generating media attention without resorting to something like divorce and all the negative baggage that goes with it.

No, I think Kim K was just ready to cut the cord from the start if it didn’t go the way she wanted. And clearly, it didn’t. There were no worries, no feelings of guilt, no wanting to give it a little more time. When she decided it wasn’t working, she jettisoned Kris Humphries without regret or second thought — and she did it within the 90-day probationary period to boot.

Yes, I know; marriages don’t have 90-day probationary periods. But you get my point.

Good managers do the tough stuff

As a manager, you need to be ready and willing to do what needs to be done for the betterment of the team and the organization. No one likes to do the negative stuff — no one with any sense of decency, at least — and no one really wants to do it to a relatively new employee. It’s a tough thing to confront, but that’s when any good manager really earns their pay — when they need to do something really tough and unpleasant.

Cutting loose a new employee certainly falls into that camp. And despite what you may think of her and her marriage, Kim Kardashian showed us how to do it quickly, if not so easily, and then get on with life — especially if that life as a soon-to-be-divorcee generates some additional dollar signs.

It may not be the way Peter Drucker would draw it up, but it’s a good example of how to quickly cut your losses. If you want to be a better manager, you can certainly learn something from that.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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