This last summer, I blogged here about dealing with staffing issues. Part of the discussion was about dealing with your lower players, putting them on performance improvement plans, and trying to bring them back from the termination precipice.
Obviously, making the decision to terminate someone is a big decision for you. You have time and money invested in this guy, and replacing him is very time consuming and expensive in itself. And there's no guarantee that his replacement (once he's hired, comes on board, gets trained, and gets up to speed) will outperform him anyway. So you're going to do your very best to turn this guy around and save the aggravation. Make things easier and cheaper on yourself. It's in your best interest. You. Yes, you.
Oh wait, there's another human being involved here. Really, where? Uh, the guy you're about to terminate. Maybe we should consider something about him in the equation? You're messing with this guy's life, after all.
But wait again, this is a business! Don't you the manager need to do whatever is best for the business in every case? If he's not carrying his weight, doesn't he have to be let go? Yes, absolutely. Ultimately, you need to do what's best for the business. Of course, as stated, turning someone around can be what is best for the business, but failing that, well, poof.
But have you taken all the right steps leading up to the poofing? I'm not talking about what will cover your butt legally. Have you truly been giving this guy the right mentoring, correction, punishment, notice, help, whatever you want to call it?
Ask yourself this... is his being terminated going to surprise him? If the answer is "yes", you've done something wrong. By the time someone needs to be poofed, they need to see it coming. He's had plenty of talks, "needs improvement" reviews, scoldings, whatever. He knows he's underperforming, he knows he's been given direction to improve, and he knows that he hasn't done so. Having the final talk with you and HR is not really unexpected.
Even for folks you have been frustratingly unable to turn around, you owe it to them to be able to answer the "will he be surprised?" questions with a "no" before proceeding. And even if the termination is the result of a singular, massive screw-up, would the oncoming termination be surprising? Use the answer to this question as your threshold.
So, that covers folks on the way out. What about on the way in? In my mind, you have an even greater responsibility prior to hiring someone. More on that next time...