As a business coach I know the process of letting an employee go is uncomfortable and upsetting. However there are a few guidelines that can help soften the blow called the five W's - who, what, when, where and why:
Start with who - think about the employee and what you know about them. Be sure to empathise with their personality: this helps you to feel secure, as well as putting your employee at ease and making them feel less like a disposable entity.
What is important in determining the questions that will inevitably arise. When involved as a business coach I usually ask questions or do a role play to cover things like: What is your employee going to say and feel? What tone will you speak in? There are many whats that can be addressed - the more you consider before the meeting, the lower the chance you will be thrown off guard.
When you choose to carry out the termination is also very important. Morning, afternoon or evening and day of the week can affect the situation. The end of the day may seem the best choice, however, sometimes an employee can feel resentful that you knew what was coming the whole day and allowed them to carry on with their work regardless. Consider each situation independently.
Selecting the where is also a key factor. Choosing a conference room may feel less threatening than asking the team member into your office, but may mean that the employee has to walk through common areas afterwards. You may want to offer them the chance to return at a more discreet time to retrieve their personal belongings.
Why is crucial. Have clear, solid and succinct reasons for the termination ready at hand. Be attentive and listen actively to responses, however, remain in control of the conversation at all times. Be empathetic but not sympathetic, and do not offer apologies, false hope or future promises.
The termination should not be up for debate. Allow time for responses, but do not hand the employee the conversational lead.
Use your resources - more specifically, human resources. Your human resources representative is in place to help assist in difficult situations such as these and sometimes having a third party ready to act as a mediator can keep the conversation on track and make the employee feel somewhat represented. As a business coach I am often finding the best people to assist in times like this.
Also, always take time after the meeting to reflect and record the events - this information can help you better prepare for the future, and you never know when it may be called upon in the unfortunate instance of a potential lawsuit.
Remember there can often be major pitfalls to incorrectly dismissing a staff member. Often it can be a legal minefield if strict procedures aren't followed. If you are not involving an experienced business coach like me, please seek appropriate advice at the time you decide action needs to be taken.
If you are yet to implement a personnel development system in your organisation, this might be the right time to contact a business coach or professional adviser. They will have a number of resources specifically designed for SME's and would be delighted to help you with implementing a systemised recruitment, induction and appraisal procedures that can result in better productivity for your firm.