THE BLOG
09/30/2014 12:52 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

The Art of Employee Termination

"Getting fired is nature's way to telling you that you had the wrong job in the first place." -- Hal Lancaster, in The Wall Street Journal

Employee termination is a big topic that entrepreneurs don't get to read about very often or maybe don't want to read about very often. This is a subject that many would rather avoid until the moment actually arrives. But if you are a business leader with success and longevity running your business, this is something that you will inevitably spend time on. Terminating an employee is a task that must be carried out when needed, yet this process can bring about emotions that are challenging to deal with compared to others like planning the new product roll out.

Throughout my career I have seen my fair share of employees being terminated. Some managers do this with professional consideration and planning and some do not. Those who are successful know they need to do their best during each part of the termination process and if they are thinking about this process professionally they understand it will be a benefit to both parties. I have talked to managers who find this process unpleasant and emotionally draining and I agree it can be. So, how do you go about this? What are the steps and approaches you must take to make sure this process goes as smooth as possible?

Even though managers have their own method and strategy when it comes to employee terminations, they take similar precautions, especially when they are running a large company. In a society when office shootings and employee lawsuits have been seen in the media multiple times by millions, it's important to take precautions in order to minimize these possibilities as much as possible. It is also important to know you can create a winning environment during this process for all.

Let's begin ...

Preparation: Consult with an attorney to discuss the termination process as well as what do you need to do beforehand. Most likely, they will tell you to build a case file outlining the reasons for termination. It's important that you document everything pertaining to the termination process. Begin by gathering past warnings given to the employee. The termination must also reference to your policy and procedure manual, in order to ensure that you can show your state's employment commission the reasoning behind the termination, if necessary. This is why, it is very important to make sure that your policy and procedure manual is aligned with state and federal regulations.

When the day arrives: Minimize potential damage to both company and employee by taking security and safety precautions. Ask the security personnel and alert them on what is going to happen and when. Also, ask them to revoke the employee's access to company's premises after the termination process ends. Furthermore, ask the IT department to disconnect the employee's company email, phone line or any other form of communication that is provided by the organization to employees. Make sure that the IT personnel removes the employee from the network and that his/her computer is shut down.

Action: Before you bring the employee in, make sure you have security staff and at least one witness present before any action takes place. Bring the employee and the witness into a private area away from other employees. You do not want to embarrass the employee, aim to maintain the employee's dignity throughout this difficult process. It is critical that you remain cool, calm and collected, not letting your emotions get the best of you during this times.

Use the appropriate language: Once seated, begin by explaining to the employee the reasoning for his/her termination. If you had issued the employee warnings in the past, this is the time to address them and discuss the fact that there were no performance improvements over time. Furthermore, make sure to address the company's policy and procedures handbook, their initial job description and agreement, and discuss any violation made by the employee. It is critical that you explain to him/her the reasoning behind the termination thoroughly, not only to avoid any potential lawsuits but to avoid any negative or violent reaction during termination.

Minimize conflicts: If the reason for termination is poor performance, allow the employee the opportunity to resign. This is because a termination in a person's professional records could be very detrimental. By giving the employee this opportunity, it minimizes any potential damages to the company and the employee. If the employee chooses to resign, provide him/her with pen and paper to write a letter of resignation at that time. Ask the employee to sign the letter and after reviewing it, make sure that you and the witness also sign.

If the employee decides to resign, it's important to discuss how each will portray the other afterwards. Explain that neither party should bad mouth the other under any circumstances. Denigration creates animosity and could end in legal action. If everything goes well, remind the employee that you will be willing to provide references when requested. If appropriate, stress the fact that this person will now have an opportunity to find a job/career that is a good fit for their skill sets. You can also offer services of an organization that specializes in out placing services or just placing them with a personnel agency for interviews.

The end: Make sure you have someone escort the employee to his/her office in order to collect personal belongings, and then to his/her vehicle. Remind the security or whoever that is escorting the employee out, to collect anything that the employee keeps in the vehicle that belongs to the company such as access key cards, computers, files, etc.

The process of terminating an employee is never a fun one and can be draining on both parties involved. However, it does not mean that you cannot do it the right way. Make this process as smooth and as professional as possible while still keeping yourself, your employees and your business secure. Once the process ends, the individual terminated has an opportunity to build a new career with an organization they can be happy with and succeed in. You, on the other hand, can rebuild and orchestrate the company the way you need it, with the talent that is compatible with your company's values, mission and vision.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.