By Scott Tackett

Recently, I read an article by Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint, that was written for Entrepreneur magazine. The article was entitled, “How to Fire an Employee: 4 Ways to Make the Process Kinder.” This well-written article outlined the following four strategies, edited for this article, for terminating an employee with compassion and integrity:

  1. Make sure you offer opportunities for improvement first.
  2. Consider all the alternatives and always err on the side of caution—risk management.
  3. Work with human resources to ensure that the termination is handled correctly.
  4. Be as transparent as possible with the employee.

Goldin’s strategies are, in my opinion, sound and appropriate. However, given my 35 years in business—with the majority of that time spent in HR—I don’t feel the termination of an employee is ever going to be viewed as kind! When we finally reach the point of termination, I have learned that it is truly the equivalent of an industrial death penalty to the employee and their family.

Over the years, I have presented to countless owners, managers, and leaders a program I developed entitled, Managing Positive Discipline. In this program, I refuse to “soft-soap” the termination process. It is difficult, and it can be ugly. What it should never be is easy for you to do. I strongly suggest that if it ever becomes easy for you to terminate someone, then it’s time for you to get out of management. Having said this, I don’t think the issue is about trying to be kinder. It’s about being firm, fair, and consistent, and to that, you must have courage.

There may be times when it is necessary for you to terminate a family member, your best friend, or that person who has been with you since day one. I dare to say that being involved in these types of terminations is never going to be kind. What they require is strength of character.

In his book, Talent Is Never Enough, John Maxwell very appropriately addresses the issue of courageous leadership. He discusses the fact that, early on in his career, he was falling short of expectations and his talent as a leader was being tested. He recognized his problem was wanting to please everyone. According to Maxwell, “Making people happy was the most important thing to me. The bottom line was that I lacked the courage to make right but unpopular decisions.”

Terminating an employee, no matter who they are, takes courage. We must realize that while we will always strive to conduct this process in the most respectful manner, making it kinder may simply not be possible. As Maxwell learned, it is impossible to please everyone.

Certainly, I have found that there is a right way and a wrong way to terminate an employee. Assuming you have done everything appropriate up to this point, here are a few tips on how to make the actual termination meeting go as smoothly as possible.

  • Keep the meeting brief and to the point. It should never last more than five to ten minutes.
  • Be candid and truthful. The employee has a legal right to know why they are being terminated.
  • Avoid miscommunication and misperceptions. Keeping the meeting short and concise will help with this.
  • Explain the steps associated with the employee’s final paycheck, benefits, and company property.
  • End the meeting in a dignified and professional manner.

If it were possible to make the termination process kinder, I would do so in a heartbeat—but in my real-world experience, it is never a kind process to the individual being terminated.

So how do we, as decision-makers, live with this difficult and challenging task? John Addison, in his book, Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, has provided me with comfort in this area of leadership responsibility many times.

Addison’s Practice #6 states, in part: “To be effective in the world, you have to carry within you a core of untroubled calm, a sense of inner peace that is content in who you are, with all your best intentions and all your imperfections. When you maintain that peaceful core within you, you can weather whatever storms are happening on the outside.”

The angst of termination can be overcome, not by trying to be kinder, but by always being firm, fair, and consistent, and by maintaining the peaceful core that Addison so precisely recommends.


Scott Tackett is a business development advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. He is considered the leading expert in restoration and cleaning for Human Resource Development and Organizational Leadership with over 30 years of experience. Through Violand, Tackett works with companies to develop their people and profits. To reach him, visit Violand.com or call (800)360-3513.