Can your underperforming employee still improve, or is it time to let them go?

The 4 Conditions for Improvement

Your employee is struggling. You are genuinely invested in their success. But they are not making progress.

How do you decide whether to continue supporting them or to let them go?

Here’s a simple framework.

In order for your employee to resolve their performance problem, they must:

  1. be AWARE of the problem,

  2. ACCEPT their role in the creation of the problem,

  3. WANT to resolve the problem, and

  4. be ABLE to resolve the problem.

AAWA, for short, if it helps you remember. (How is there no synonym for "want" that starts with A?)

Notice, however, that after step 1—making your employee AWARE of their situation—you have no direct control over the outcomes. You can only create the conditions for their success. They must do the work.

You might discover that they do not ACCEPT responsibility for their subpar performance. What can you do about that?

And you might notice they don’t WANT to do the work to improve their performance. Do you have any control over that?

Or you might recognize that they aren’t ABLE to do the work. Seeing a pattern yet?

It might be time to part ways.

It’s normal to feel responsible. After all, you’re human, with a heart and soul. You’ve probably taken this job because you have a genuine concern for the people in your care. But it's worth remembering that you're neither in control nor responsible for their failures.

It might feel good to shield them from the consequences of their actions (or inaction). And to protect yourself from the bad feelings that come when you eventually let them go. You might have hired them, too, so you could be feeling doubly responsible.

But pretending that you have control, prolonging suffering, and delaying the inevitable is not serving anybody. Neither you, nor your team, nor your employee.