It’s an awkward feeling when, while conducting a job interview, the candidate asks if you know a person whom you had to terminate. This happened to me once. Before I could respond, the interviewee said that he had just come from that person’s house.

He had told that person that he was going for a job interview. When mentioned the name of the company, his friend said, “Oh, you must be going to interview with Tim Enochs.” He added, “I used to work there. Tim fired me, but he was cool about it. I think you will like working there.”

I was stunned. I quickly realized that, at least in that situation, we must have done something right.

Termination, even for the right reasons, is a lose/lose situation. The employee loses their job. The company loses all of the time and money invested in that person, along with the opportunity cost of not having had the “right” person in that position. Everyone has to start all over.

There are at least four questions every leader should ask when considering termination. They all stem from this central question:

Has this person been given the opportunity to succeed?

Let’s begin with these three questions:

1) Does this person understand what is required to succeed in this position?
2) Have they been properly trained to succeed in this position?
3) Do they have access to all the tools which are needed to succeed in this position?

In other words, does this person have the awareness, ability, and means to succeed in the position?

Notice these questions are offered in the present tense. There’s a reason for that. It’s best to ask these questions prior to a termination decision. You may find that there is still room to help them succeed.

If you didn’t ask yourself these questions prior to a recent termination, consider them now. You may learn something about whether that was the right decision, and why. You may discover ways that you can more effectively set up the next employee for success.

Once it’s determined that termination is the correct course, a fourth question should be considered:

4) What did we miss when we hired this person? Is there anything we should have caught in the selection process that can be considered in our next hire?

In the end, termination may be the right decision for both you and the employee. You’ll avoid a lot of grief and regret if you weigh this decision carefully.

What other questions do you ask before terminating someone? What have you learned in retrospect from past terminations?