Probation period – Can we change our minds? What can we do to make it work?

Imagine you would get the chance to try it out – marriage – before actually doing it. With all the emotions involved, all the magic and still, being able to call it a day if you are not fully into it. That might be the difference between a happily ever after or a bittersweet rose war. But as any relationship, it is always about communication how this probation period can be part of a learning process, fair to all participants and serving the purpose of your company.

Probation periods are used in a lot of companies to be able to “correct mistakes made when hiring”. This is not enough. Probation times can be greatly gratifying learning experiences not only for the new employee but for the organisation and for you as a leader even more. New people will always give you new insights in how you work with new perspectives and how you adapt to new personalities. As a leader you have the great opportunity to learn something new and to be surprised or even taken off guard. Your emotional intelligence can only benefit of new exposure.

On the other hand, your team will also have a great opportunity to grow – not only in numbers – but within their existing roles. You will be surprised how mentoring a new colleague might be reinvigorating for the long-year employee being their expert self every day. A few days to be able to receive appreciation for this, will remain a great source of motivation.

Well, there are a lot of reasons why we hire someone. In most of the cases we know right from the start, out of a gut feeling, that everything works just fine. In some we get desperate and start allowing compromises. All can work out, but in all cases you need to be aware that you as a leader will be responsible to make it work too. It is a two-way thing, a work relationship – where it can work out or it just won’t. 

Please feel free to use my Trello board „Framework Probation Period“ to get started or some inspiration to start your own.

Let me share with you some of my learnings along the way:

Before you start, prepare your organization for the role. 

You want to hire someone to be part of your team. Surely you have some very clear ideas what this person is supposed to be doing or needs to do when joining your team.

BRING THIS TO PAPER! – For all the people involved in the process of recruiting and hiring YOUR person, a role description & definition will provide the guideline to things to look after when interviewing candidates. For you, this role description will be the crucial backbone for getting understanding of this person’s value to your organisation and expectations towards that role.

Introduction to your organization

This is usually done by HR on the First Day and during the onboarding days BUT… always remember that YOU are responsible for the person starting in your team to truly understand the value they are contributing to the organisation as a whole.When introducing your company to your new team members try to remember some very important things:

  • What is the purpose of your company?
  • How do your team contribute to this purpose?
  • Who are your decision makers?
  • What other departments do you rely on?
  • What other departments benefit from your work?
  • Who needs to know your new person?
  • Personally introduce them!
  • AND make sure that your new person knows where to get: Food, beverages, me-time, book meetings and conference rooms.
  • Where to find general information and how to understand corporate communication.

Make your new people know they are welcome and much needed and how you are eager to let them contribute to your success. This first weeks will be the basis for a trusting working relationship. Inspire your new employees to invest themselves in their new job and reduce the natural caution that new employees have because of the fear of losing their jobs by making mistakes.

Getting to know your organization and the people in it

One very important step of onboarding is making sure your people know who makes decisions and how they need to prepare for decision making. Not less important is to make sure that decisions makers and stake holders to your specific team know about your new people. For this reason, make proper introductions and explain what the person will do. It will speed up a lot of things for your and your team once your new team member is confident enough to address decision makers or speak their language. Early exposure to this process is a sign of trust as well as a very good way to show your new employee how things are done in the company.

Please DO NOT share your bias. Really. Your opinion about people, other leaders, decision making processes, food etc. is only that: YOUR OPINION. Be concise, prudent and always an example to your team. Keep your opinions to yourself and communicate only what is important to your new people. Explain in detail how your decision makers like to work: Pyramidal communication, straight to the point, elevator pitch etc. When you explain the roles of other people, please make sure to not share personal details or rumours or any other “funny” facts. Think about how you would like other people in the organisation to talk about you. This is how you talk about other people. Communicate simple expectations: Respect, politeness and collaboration should be a MUST at all times. “Where do I go to…?”

Simple as that: Give your new employees a guiding word on where to get what they need: Information, tutorials, trainings, manuals, IT support & help, nice pictures, etc. Do not just “expect” they will find out or ask for them.Remember: You are onboarding them. You need to provide this information.

Introduction to the training and onboarding plan

Every team should have a training plan. Let your team members prepare those beforehand and give them tasks to be trainers to new employees. This is extremely invigorating for “old” team members and a very cool way of bringing your people together and getting to know each other.

Train skills that you knew at hiring where going to need some help: Sometimes you decided on a candidate well knowing that some other skill was not perfect. It would be totally unfair to come back after the trial period and miss the skill, being this what is making you unhappy with your new person. So, pretty simple, if you know some skill is missing, train it in the beginning! This way, the person will have all necessary skills – or the best possible – when he/she starts doing the job. As a team lead, you need to motivate yourself and the rest of the team, to make everything possible to get new people up and running as soon as you can. It is also your responsibility to create a safe-to-try environment for your new employees in order for them to develop into the role they were recruited for. New employees are new to the company but surely not new to work. You hired them because they have specific experiences or skills, right? Exactly! So, use that.

Set expectations for your team as well, how this new experience will enrich everybody and how this will help the team to be more successful.

Tools to work with

No. Tools are not obvious to work with. Even the most common Microsoft Office is used so very differently in every company. Train your new employees how YOU work with the tools. How are e-mails are used, collaborative working tools, software or interfaces used for the daily work.

Trust your instincts, don’t be afraid of making decisions

Employing someone new should follow the principle that you made a GOOD decision about hiring them. You should engage with your new employees trusting that it will work out and not holding back energy in case it doesn’t. That is a self-full-filling prophecy very commonly found.

After 90 days you should be ready to make a decision to keep going or not. Yes, it is a difficult decision, as this will impact the future of your team or the future of this person. Still, this is no team decision. Please remember, that your team is biased and will always choose the emotional factor in this kind of decisions. They didn’t set the expectations. You did. You can consider opinions but it is your evaluation what should drive the decision. At the end of the day: You defined expectations, provided training and onboarding and discussed milestones. It should be a pretty transparent and objective discussion with your new employee if this works out or not. Let’s be honest. After 90 days, you know already if something is working out or not. Do not fear failure by being critical about a hiring. It will be best for both parties to decide quite quick if this will work out or not.
Uncertainty is no motivator to perform. Fear of losing the job neither! Make sure that you empower your new employees by letting them know soon that you are happy, not so happy or quite unhappy and how this is affecting your power to decide.

How to deal with underperformance?

Underperformance will be even more expensive and utterly damaging than having to start a hiring process all over again. You will never be happy and your team performance will pay the consequences. Be brave and break the cycle in time.

Document your learnings from Hiring to Onboarding to Work and Performance and make sure you change things of you notice there was room for improvement. Learning from all experiences will give you a pretty good idea of what should be done the next time.
If you need a good learning process, try this:

I am convinced that everybody needs a good start. I truly believe that it is also ok to call it a day if things do not work out. In most of the cases, it is not a question of something failing but just a mismatch.

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