7 lessons I’ve learned from people I’ve fired

Sacking an employee is not pleasant. But, as Deepak Shukla explains, with the right leadership approach, there are silver linings.

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Written and reviewed by:
Deepak Shukla, founder of Pearl Lemon Group

Making someone redundant can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do in business. It’s gut-wrenching for the employer and the employee, and even though I’ve done it more times than I’d like to admit – it never gets easier.

Opinions on firing differ so widely because it’s a deeply personal and often emotional process. You’re affecting someone’s livelihood, after all.

But firing is something you can’t shy away from. Your responsibility is to the company and its employees as a whole, and sometimes that means making those tough calls. Particularly in today’s economy, when redundancies are sadly on the rise.

It’s something I’ve had to get used to as the founder of Pearl Lemon Group. Pearl Lemon began as a one-man startup in my mum and dad’s basement. Now, we’re a network of more than a dozen globally operating companies, with employees located everywhere.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, and we’ve had to lose some teammates along the way. So how have we handled firing at Pearl Lemon? How have we navigated the tricky waters of letting people go while maintaining our core values?

Lessons learnt from letting someone go

There’s no playbook when it comes to how to fire an employee. Ask ten different business leaders how they handle it, and you’ll get ten different answers.

Some believe in the cut-and-dry approach, swift and unemotional. Others, like me, believe in treating the process with an empathetic and considerate leadership style, and looking at it as a chance for growth for both parties involved.

Below, I’ll share the seven biggest lessons I’ve learned from the people I’ve let go. By doing so, I hope to shed some light on a process that can be as challenging as it is necessary.

Each one is born from experience; taken from the last seven people I’ve had to fire. Trust me; these lessons weren’t learned overnight. They’ve been shaped and reshaped through each difficult conversation and painful decision.

1. Clear communication from the start

Being upfront and transparent from the get-go makes tough decisions later on easier to swallow. It’s all about setting clear expectations for a role.

Define who your company is, and the kind of behaviour and ideas you expect from staff. Doing so will save you some hard conversations and help you avoid hiring regret down the line.

2. Look for the right fit, not just skillset

Hire for fit and attitude, not just qualifications. The last seven people I’ve let go weren’t necessarily lacking in skills. Sometimes, they just weren’t the right fit for our fast-paced organisational culture.

3. Encourage improvement, not termination

Give people a chance to grow. Even the employee you feel least sure about might surprise you. At Pearl Lemon, we have something called an ‘improve or leave conversation.’ It’s a chance for someone to up their game, and can have a positive impact on staff turnover.

4. Find your non-negotiables

Identify the non-negotiables in your business and stick to them. They’ll guide you when the going gets tough.

Long and odd hours might not be for everyone, but at Pearl Lemon, that level of grit and dedication is a must-have. If an employee decides your non-negotiable is their no-go, it might be time for you both to part ways.

5. Growth means changing the way you operate

Pearl Lemon has grown from a basement startup into a global powerhouse. That kind of growth means changing how we do things, including letting go of those who can’t keep up.

Often, being fired says nothing about the person’s skill set, but more about where the company is headed. Embrace change, and recognise when someone is no longer aligned with your company mission statement.

6. Let people leave on their terms

Holding that ‘improve or leave’ talk gives employees their own chance to decide whether they can make the changes being asked of them, or if they’d rather decide to leave on their own terms.

View firing not as a bad break, but as a way to help the employee recognise when it’s time to move on. Encouraging self-awareness can avoid conflict and lead to a more harmonious parting of ways.

7. Reflect on what worked (and what didn’t)

Firing those first seven people was brutal. I’ve learned a lot since then, and those lessons have shaped my approach to making redundancies ever since. With every employee they let go, business leaders should reflect on what works and what doesn’t. Keep evolving, and don’t be afraid to change your approach.

How to do the hardest thing as an entrepreneur

Firing people isn’t something anyone looks forward to. But it’s a part of the game, especially when you’re growing as fast as we have at Pearl Lemon.

Remember, it’s all about the journey. Stay true to your values, be honest with your team, and don’t be afraid to make tough decisions.

Written by:
Reviewed by:
Deepak Shukla, founder of Pearl Lemon Group
Deepak Shukla is the founder of the award-winning Pearl Lemon Group. Deepak is a serial entrepreneur who has founded businesses in industries like digital marketing, technology, finance, and real estate. He has been recognized as a transformative recruitment expert and has been featured on TEDx (3x), Forbes, and Entrepreneur for his incredible insights on recruitment, business, and leadership. 

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