Managing people By Jane and Chris Churchhouse Gower 224 pages £18.99

Just why do we find it so difficult to manage people effectively? Maybe one of the reasons is that our instincts betray us. We feel, as managers, that we know what to do. Accordingly we know within two minutes of a person entering the interview room whether they will fit the job.

We know when people are messing about. We know what motivates people. All these instinctive responses cause immeasurable trouble, and it is the purpose of this helpful book, in the Gower Management Workbook series, to try to correct some of the misjudgements which every manager makes sooner or later.

Interestingly, the book starts at the end, sorting out the issues around someone leaving. This has a logic, as it is at that point that managers have to assess how staff are matching the organisation. It is, of course, difficult to establish why people leave as often neither the person concerned nor the manager really want to be frank. But failure to do so loses a valuable opportunity for reassessment of who does what.

Advertising and interviewing are then investigated and there is a useful rundown of the legal requirements, including some awkward issues about discrimination.

It is still amazing how badly interview panels can behave. Many managers find interviewing tedious and they rush conclusions. Managing People helps to make the process more interesting.

The authors do not investigate some of the more sophisticated techniques such as psychometric testing or assessment centres - perhaps wisely - as these are often used as proxies for good practice at a more obvious level.

Part II covers training. In the NHS we are constantly re-inventing management training. Although managers pay it lip-service, they do not often build in budgets for continuing education. It is always a necessary component to ensure that staff of all kinds are properly equipped.

I like the authors' classification of types of learner: the activist who learns by doing, the pragmatist who learns best when the practical application is obvious, the theorist who needs to understand the fundamental principles, and the reflector who learns by thinking about things.

The last section of the book deals with performance and disciplinary problems and perhaps is the weakest in that its somewhat utopian tone does not always allow for human nature.

Slightly more risky approaches are sometimes needed to get a grip on dysfunctional behaviour. The first step is always, for me, to establish whether people do not have the necessary capability or whether they are just being naughty.

Overall, this book is an excellent introduction for managers doing their NVQs, and for the rest shows that even though staff are volatile and inconsistent, managing them in a systematic and careful way is in the end rewarding and proper.

Andrew Wall

Visiting senior fellow at Birmingham University's health services management centre.