How to master the lost art of running an effective probation period

I want to talk to you about the lost art of running an effective probation period. Because let’s face it, there are so many people working merrily away in businesses who never actually ‘passed’ a probation. They just drifted into full time employment or their probation period has been extended and extended again and extended again because they’re ‘such a lovely person’ and, ‘oh, I’m sure they’ll get it eventually’.

Hiring is such a big investment you want to make really sure that you are hiring well. You’ve taken all that time. You’ve not settled. You’ve hired to your values, you’ve taken all that time to get the person that you think is the right person in the door. So these next 90 days are crucial in making sure that they are a good fit for you and your team

And it all starts with their first day…

How do we make our new team member’s first day memorable for all the right reasons? How do we make sure that their first impression of you, your team and your business is a positive one?

  1. Preparation. You want them to ‘walk into’ a welcoming environment, so make sure that you’re all set up for them, that the team know they’re coming and what their name is – maybe get the whole team together, whether that’s in person or on a zoom call, to introduce themselves and say hello.
  2. Information. Give only the basic/essential information on day one. If you’re working in an office – what break times look like, where to go to the toilet, where to get a coffee, that sort of thing. If you’re working remotely – what time your daily huddles are, how to access them, what day you have your weekly meetings and so on – basic essential stuff. Then the rest of their first day should be all about inspiration.
  3. Inspiration. If you as business owner, can’t be present for whatever reason, call them, Facetime them, send them a welcome video – just show that you care about their first day. Tell them how important they are to the business, how their role fits into the bigger picture, your plans for them, how the business started, and where it’s going.
  4. You want your team member leaving you on that first day buzzing about what a good decision they’ve made in joining you.

So, a memorable first day is the first and crucial part of a probation system.

The second part then is obviously the first week. Here is where you go through all of the paperwork, making sure you’ve got everything you need in place from a legal perspective. Maybe they have to pass a health and safety test or learn about manual handling – get these out of the way in the first week. And get them to spend time understanding the bigger picture of the business – give them time with other members of the team to understand the customer journey.

This first week sets the tone for what follows, so again, you want it to be a good mix of the practical, the informative and the inspirational.

In this first week, you’ll also talk them through two important documents:

  1. The training map for their first 90 days – sharing what training you’re going to give them, and exactly what you are going to expect them to know and be able to do by the end of their 90 days. And
  2. Their probationary performance review – detailing what they’re going to be measured against, and how you are going to make your decision at the end of their 90 days. Because it’s really important that they know this right at the start.

The final thing you’ll do in the first week, is to put dates in the diary for 3 crucial meetings – a 30 day meeting, a 60 day meeting, and of course a 90 day meeting, to mark the end of their probation period. You want these dates set in stone in your diary and theirs so that they’re not forgotten.

During the 90 day period, you’ll then focus on their training, getting your team to work with them to teach them your one right way to do each task. You’ll make sure that they get constructive feedback day to day. You’ll ask your team how it’s going, how they’re fitting in.

And then of course, you’ll have those 30 and 60 day meetings to share with them how they’re doing overall, what they’re doing well and how they need to improve to pass their probation. Give them all the information they need to succeed, while they’ve still got a chance to do something about it. If it’s still a ‘no’ at the end, so be it, but at least give them that chance in those 30 and 60 day meetings.

When it comes to the 90 day meeting, you’ll then take them through their probationary review, refer back to feedback you’ve given them day to day over the course of their probation period, and during their 30 and 60 day meetings; and then tell them whether they have passed or failed their probation.

Please don’t bottle the ‘yes’/ ‘no’ decision. Don’t go against your gut because someone is a nice person, or you want to give them more time. Don’t waste your time and money hiring someone who you know deep down is not right for your team.

Hire the wrong person, and you’re just building in pain, putting off the inevitable, and potentially unsettling the balance of your team. Cut the cord while it’s short, and go find somebody that’s absolutely brilliant – the right person for your team!


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Marianne Page

Marianne is the author of three books, and is currently working on her fourth, whilst regularly writing her blog, we hope you enjoy it :-)


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