Yes, there does come a time when you’ve done everything you can to make a square peg fit into a round hole and alas it’s not working.  I’m all for compassion, empathy and understanding.  However I’m also for what’s best for your organization and the individuals in it.

Just for a moment, step back.  And imagine being them – imagine being in a position where you always feel like you fall short.  In a position where you never truly feel successful because the position doesn’t take advantage of your strengths, and quite honestly is never going to be an area where you shine.

If you’re not completely sure if the time has come to stop investing in an employee’s development, consider asking the following:

  1. Is the missing skill/capacity a deal breaker for the position – is it a “need to have” or a “nice to have?”
  2. Have you clearly communicated that the peg is square and the hole is round and it’s not a good fit?  And how that’s evident? (Before “giving up,” you must give an employee a real opportunity to improve.  The only way to do this is to be very clear and honest in how the individual does and doesn’t meet the expectations of the position.  And which gaps are deal breakers if not addressed.)
  3. Upon awareness, has the employee been pro-active in seeking out ways to address these gaps?
  4. How long has the peg been square and the hole round?  (If it’s been a year, and the gaps have been clearly communicated, it’s time to move on.)
  5. Have you already tried to change the shape of the hole to accommodate the peg?  (This is not a good sign – find people to fill the position, not positions to fill the people.)
  6. Are there other areas in your company where you have a square hole and need a square peg?  (If you don’t, set them free to find an organization that needs a square peg.)
  7. How much time, energy and resources have you put toward trying to “transform” said peg?  What are the concrete measurable outcomes/results of these efforts?  What long-term changes/lack of changes have you witnessed?
  8. On days when this person is giving you his/her best – is his/her performance truly at the level/capacity of what you would like to see in this position? (Unfortunately a square peg can have the best intentions to fit into a round hole.  They can try really hard.  They might even find a way to wedge in a bit.  But if they really don’t fit – they don’t fit.  If you answered no, this person is not the right person for the position.)